Smokies park rangers need citizen science volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers are recruiting volunteers to adopt and monitor tree plots.

The volunteers will collect information at tree plots throughout the park as part of an important research project tracking phenology, or cyclic and seasonal biological changes.

For each plot of trees, volunteers will record when trees leaf out and when leaves start to change colors. They may also track the presence of target migratory birds.

The phenology data will help scientists to better understand how plants and animals might be influenced by seasonal variations in climate.

Training for the phenology monitoring project will be held from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg. For those who cannot make it in February or live farther east, an alternate training date will be held from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11 at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C.

After training, volunteers will be assigned to a phenology plot where they will collect data multiple times throughout the growing season. Plots are located near parking areas near Sugarlands, Greenbrier and Twin Creeks in Tennessee, and Deep Creek, Fontana Lake, Oconaluftee, Purchase Knob, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap in North Carolina.

Information collected by volunteers will be entered into a national database that helps scientists answer climate questions throughout the region.

In recent decades, park temperature records show trends that indicate spring has warmed by almost 5 degrees. Monitoring phenology will help park rangers understand how mountain forests are being affected by the earlier springs and subsequent cold snaps.

Those interested in volunteering for the phenology research project can email Natalie Rothenberg at or call her at 828-497-1945.


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