The History of the Roan Mountain Naturalists' Rallies
In 1959, the vision of one German immigrant, Fred W. Behrend, led to a tradition on Roan Mountain which grows stronger every year. Hundreds of amateur and professional naturalists come to the mountain twice each year to enjoy, as one newspaper reporter recently stated, "the science, information, entertainment, and fellowship of a three-day celebration of living things in the natural laboratory of Roan Mountain."
Fred Behrend came to the U. S. in 1926 to work as a stenographer for American Bemberg in Elizabethton. Having developed an interest in birding in Germany’s Black Forest, he quickly became familiar with the many species on Roan Mountain. Some residents of Carter County came to know him as "the Bird Man". "No matter what else was going on in the world, Freddy could always tell you what day which warbler arrived on Roan Mountain".
Freddy’s interest in wildflowers came later, when his 10 year-old daughter, Shirley, died of bone cancer. "I couldn’t hold my head up to look at the birds," he told a friend. "That's when I discovered flowers." And there were many flowers to be seen on Roan Mountain. Asa Gray, the great Harvard botanist, author of Gray’s Manual said it "has the richest flora of any mountain in the U.S."
By 1959, Freddy had become news editor of the Elizabethton Star and a recognized nature photographer. He decided to embark on an ambitious project - The First Annual Carter County Wildflower Tour and Bird Walks. He asked two ETSU professors, Dr. Frank Barkley and Dr. Herman O’Dell to conduct botanical tours of the Mountain. Behrend’s color slides would be the subject of a Friday night program.
Freddy continued on as director of the spring event until 1976. In 1977, when Freddy became too ill to continue this task, Dr. Lee Herndon and Dr. Gary Wallace filled in. Ardent supporter Tom Gray was director in 1978 and 1979, followed by Jim Potter in 1980, John Martin in 1981, Jim Potter again in 1982 - 84, Richard Gray (Tom’s son) in 1985 and 1986, and Jennifer Bauer
|Lee & Lois Herndon|
Both the Spring Roan Mountain Naturalists’ Rally and the Fall Roan Mountain Naturalists’ Rally have grown in scope and number of participants since their early days. Geology, stream ecology, caving, astronomy, butterflies, salamanders, medicinal and edible plants, ferns and history hikes are now offered as well as renown speakers in the evenings. With the organization of Friends of Roan Mountain, we expect the Naturalists’ Rallies to get even better, but the spirit of the first event envisioned by Freddy Behrend lives on!
The text used here originally appeared as "A
Bit of History" by Gary Barrigar in
of Roan Mountain Newsletter, Fall, 1997. Photos courtesy of Carolyn Martin.