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Saturday's High Knob Naturalist Rally offers free family fun outdoors

Debra McCown Thomas • Sep 27, 2018 at 5:00 PM

What is the High Knob Naturalist Rally? It’s a bunch of people getting together to learn about the natural environment and enjoy a family-friendly day of activities outdoors.

That means everything from lectures about local geology and wildlife to hands-on workshops that might involve hiking, kayaking, looking at wildlife, or learning wilderness survival skills.

The 12th annual High Knob Naturalist Rally will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday (Sept. 29). Registration begins at 9 a.m.

The event is in Wise County, Virginia – at High Knob Recreation Area, about an hour north of Kingsport on U.S. Highway 23. The all-day event is free to attend and includes a free lunch as well as free parking. The flagship event of The Clinch Coalition’s educational efforts, it drew around 350 people last year, organizers say – and it grows a little every year.

“Not only do we have the amphitheater where people can listen to the presenters... but we also have different sessions where they’ll actually build wilderness survival shelters and things like that,” says Martie Bell, who chairs the event for The Clinch Coalition. “Several of our presentations involve hiking around the lake. On another tour, they’ll go look at edible mushrooms and edible plants and medicinal plants.”

In addition to fun presentations that include canoeing the lake or viewing wildlife, she says, “we also have a children’s area. We have game and arts and crafts and all sorts of things where they’ll actually make things there and play games that are designed around science and nature.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Clinch Coalition, the local nonprofit that puts on the annual event with the help of the U.S. Forest Service and a variety of local businesses, large and small, whose donations help to keep it free.

Free, says Bell, is part of the philosophy: the outdoors is not just for middle-class and rich people; it’s for everyone – including those who don’t have the financial means to travel to far-off destinations. Part of the goal behind the rally is to help make the local outdoors more accessible to everyone.

Bell says that, years ago as a broke single mom, she found walking in the woods with her kids didn’t cost a dime – and they built great memories enjoying the outdoors. Nowadays, she says, a lot of kids spend too much time looking at screens – and could enjoy a good dose of the outdoors, both for their physical health and overall well-being.

“Parents need the time with their children. Children need to get out and know that they don’t need to be connected [electronically] 24/7, and that’s an important thing for them to get out and see the Earth,” she says.

“You can see a salamander on a screen, but you can’t hold one. We can actually put one in your hands that day. You can see where a beaver has built a dam on a lake and see what is caused by that.”

Event organizers recommend dressing for weather that is typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the mountains than in the Tri-Cities.

If you go, don’t forget while you’re in the area to visit the High Knob Observation Tower. Located a mile or so from the turnoff to the recreation area, it has a small area where you can park and walk up to a newly-reconstructed observation platform that offers one of the region’s most stunning views.

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