Want a 'piece' of the Smokies? Become a volunteer

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CADES COVE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Adopt-A-Plot program in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is creating a great excuse to get outdoors, while contributing to valuable scientific research.

The idea stems from the fact that it's difficult for park rangers to keep track of all the changes with plants and animals throughout the entire park. Volunteers play an important role in gathering some of the data, including Kathryn Barrow, who said it's the perfect reason to get outside.

"My husband and I have always been avid hikers. I love to bird. I love the outdoors, and this is a perfect opportunity for us to be able to come out here, gather data, be part of the park system, do something important," Barrow said.

Park rangers are recruiting volunteers to 'adopt' a piece of land in the park to monitor and check at least two times per month from the time first leaf blooms in the spring, to the last leaf drops in the fall.

"There's no way the park rangers could get all of this. We take data. I come once a week, and there's several volunteers for every plot," Barrow said.

Barrow said she monitors a plot of land in Cades Cove. She watches for changes in trees and flowers, and then she records the information.

"The Adopt-A-Plot, or phenology, gives the National Park a lot of information on the way climate shifts are affecting the plants and animals in the park," Barrow said.

Barrow said the process to check her plot of roughly ten trees takes about 30 minutes to do, but she could spend hours out there enjoying nature.

"What I'm recording right now, since it is just the beginning of spring, is the breaking leaf buds," Barrow said.

In order to get involved with Adopt-A-Plot, a three hour training workshop is required. The class goes over topics like tree identification techniques, fruit and flower identification and how to record your data.

The training opportunity in Gatlinburg has passed, but there is still a training offered in Cherokee, North Carolina on Saturday, March 30, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.