People always seem to be in a hurry to get where they’re going, said Shannon Gordon, and that’s true even outdoors.
“We have a tendency to be in a hurry so—even when we’re hiking—we’re going somewhere,” she said.
A planner for the upcoming 73rd Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she’s discovered the advantages of slowing down.
“I think that is what’s so unique about the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage,” said Gordon, who lives in the Denver suburb of Arvada, Colorado. “You can walk 100 feet and see and experience more in that 100 feet than you ever knew you could. It really helps you stop and enjoy these special gifts that we have all around us.”
Dr. Joey Shaw, UC Foundation professor in the Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Science and director of the Pilgrimage, described it “as a classroom to educate the public as to the importance of conservation and just how many species there are, whether it’s plants or birds or fungi or whatever is inside the park.”
Set for April 26-29, the annual event will have more than 120 experts who will lead more than 200 educational experiences, including guided hikes to learn about plants and animals, stargazing, wild foods and many other subjects.
“We could think about the goal in terms of the two groups of people that come to Pilgrimage,” Shaw said. “One are the leaders. These are the biologists, the botanists, the ecologists, the birders. They’re mostly professors, educators and conservation workers. They come from Florida to Connecticut and Arkansas and Michigan, most of the Eastern U.S.
“The pilgrims come because they want more education in whatever the subjects are. What they want is to come spend several days hiking with some people who can help them learn better about all these cool organisms that they’re hiking through.”
Shaw, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UTC in 1998, first got involved in the Wildflower Pilgrimage as a graduate student at UT Knoxville—obtaining a master’s in botany in 2000 and a doctoral degree in 2005.
Quinn Towery, who is in his first semester at UTC and pursuing a master’s in environmental science with a concentration in botany, will be attending his first Pilgrimage. He helped plan the event and is looking forward to meeting the people he’s been emailing for the past few months.
“I’ve met—or at least met over email—a lot of professionals who I’m hoping to keep in contact with for the rest of my career,” said Towery, who attended Allen County-Scottsville High School in Kentucky and graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s in environmental science.
“I think that’s one of the greatest benefits I see from my position, getting to just meet all of these amazing biologists in the Southeast and hopefully making a connection with them.”
Gordon said she’s eager to interact with experts in their topic and gain insight from what they know.
“We learn every day from leaders who are in their 80s to the students like Quinn who have such an immense knowledge already and are able to share that. I think that’s pretty exciting.”