Living and Growing at Smith Mountain

Photo by Kenneth Boone

Research for signs nearly complete

Members of the Alabama Naturalist class met with the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association (CRATA) board of directors last month to present their research for the Smith Mountain signage project. Each class member is responsible for conducting research for two panels. The work of Auburn’s Trish Lehr includes a panel highlighting Smith Mountain mammals and another with information about invasive and keystone flora.

Originally from Ohio, Lehr signed up for the class at the encouragement of a friend who knew of Lehr’s passion for nature.

“I’ve always had an appreciation for nature all my life but had never gotten into doing anything with it except going out hiking and checking things out wherever I happened to be living,” Lehr said. “This is the fist time I’ve had any formal education about it, and I’ve learned a lot.”

Lehr said paring down the information for the assigned panels was a challenge, as she wanted to include a variety of species and represent the ecosystem well.

“I included the bobcat because people see their tracks but hardly ever see the animal,” she explained.

Lehr also included the highly intelligent North American River Otter and the American Beaver, as visitors may see them on the CRATA trails along the lake.

Fox, fox squirrel, flying squirrels and raccoons also will be given attention on the panels, along with the Tri- Colored Bat, one of Alabama’s 13 species of bats. One of the smallest bats in North America, the Tri-Colored weighs only a quarter of an ounce. To keep the panels interesting, Lehr also hopes to use some panel space to debunk common misinformation about bats, such as the supposition that they are blind.

“All bats can see and use sight to navigate in the daylight; they use echolocation to navigate and find food in the dark,” she noted.

She will highlight the Longleaf Pine on her second panel and will explain its importance to a variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

“A keystone species is one on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, and if it were removed, the ecosystem would change drastically,” Lehr explained.

The Longleaf Pine once covered more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, and when the forests were cut for timber some 100 years ago, and the faster-growing Loblolly Pine was planted, the wildlife and landscape of the entire region changed markedly.