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Outdoors Celebrating 35 years of the Bartram Trail

The North Carolina Bartram Trail Society will celebrate its 35th anniversary with an illustrated presentation on "The Natural History of the Southern Appalachians" and a trip to the Cowee Mound.

Dr. Dan Pittillo, Professor Emeritus in botany at Western Carolina University, will kick off the festivities on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Macon County library in Franklin. He will discuss how the plants and animals of the mountains developed from the earliest ages of our continent to the present.

Walter Wingfield, president of the society, said in announcing the meeting, “We are pleased that Dr. Pittillo will address the organization and its guests on this, the 35th anniversary of our establishment. Dan has been involved in the planning, building, and maintenance of the trail since its beginning in 1977; he is the only remaining member of the original Board and the only one surviving who participated in the creation of the Trail.”

Pittillo grew up on a dairy farm in Henderson County, North Carolina. Demanding farm work did not prevent him from being an exceptional student and a budding botanist. As a high school junior, he was collecting and cataloging plant specimens. Pittillo received his bachelors degree in biology from Berea College, earned a masters degree in botany at the University of Kentucky, and his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia.

In 1966, he joined the faculty of Western Carolina College (now Western Carolina University) and became a full professor in 1977. He remained at WCU until his retirement in 2004.

One afternoon in 1974, Walter McKelvey dropped into Pittillo's office at WCU and began to tell him of his plans for creating a hiking trail that would commemorate William Bartram's travels through Western North Carolina 200 years earlier. He explained that Bartram was the first American-born naturalist and that the Philadelphian had explored the Southeast between 1773 and 1777.

Although the professor had not heard of Bartram, he recognized that McKelvey's idea of creating a hiking trail that would provide a means of promoting Bartram and his travels fit nicely with the concept of dispersed recreation that Dan had proposed in the Southern Highlands Recreational Study. It would also be an appropriate effort in commemoration of the nation's bicentennial. He joined McKelvey's group and participated in the scouting of potential routes for the trail. They flagged routes and presented them to the Forest Service for approval.

The trail has grown to a well-maintained pathway that extends about 80 miles from the Georgia line to Cheoah Bald, near the Tennessee line. It closely follows the route travelled by William Bartram the year before our nation declared its independence.

The meeting will begin at the Franklin library at 10 a.m. Following Pittillo's presentation, participants will travel down the river to the eat lunch beside the Cowee Mound, which William Bartram described in his book Travels (1791). Dr. Jim Kautz of Franklin, who has published “Footprints Across the South: Bartram's Trail Revisited,” a book on Bartram's journeys across the southern colonies, will provide a brief discussion of America's first native-born naturalist and his visit to Cowee in 1775.

Members of the society invite all interested persons to join them in this community celebration.

Box lunches may be reserved for $6 through the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society website http://ncbartramtrail.org/ (click "News and Events" and fill out the form), or call Meg Petty at 828-371-0633. Deadline for lunch reservations is Thursday, Sept. 27. Water will be provided.


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