Tag Archives: Wildlife

Bays Mountain Park

Only 45 miles from Abingdon, Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport, Tennessee is one of the nicest large parks in the region.  It is right off of Interstate 26, Exit 3, Meadowview Parkway.  The entrance to the park is just a few miles to the south of the exit.

With 3,550 acres and an extensive network of 37 miles of trails, it offers a good place to do some trail running or mountain biking in an enclosed, very pretty natural park.  The trails are a mix of old fire roads and single track.  There are several good annual trail running races within the park, most notably the Bays Mountain 15 Mile Trail Race, which is in September and starts from the nature center area, and the Laurel Run Ascent, which is in April and starts in Laurel Run Park (accessed from Church Hill, Tennessee).  I did the Bays Mountain 15 miler several years ago and can attest to it being one of the nicer trail races in the region.

Bays Mountain Park has nature programs and dedicated habitat areas—essentially large pens—for bobcat, wolves, river otters, turtles, and raptors.  This area of Bays Mountain Park is similar to the Western Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, North Carolina.  There are not as many exhibits at Bays Mountain as at WCNC; however, the wolf exhibit at Bays Mountain is larger and better.

The photo gallery below shows some areas of the park close to the nature center.  Click on a photo to see a description of it.

I recently visited Bays Mountain with my son for an elementary school field trip.  (This park hosts many school field trips; during our visit there were also school field trips from Scott County, Va. and from Hawkins County, Tenn.).  With the school group, we visited the nature center, listened to a lecture on the wolves, and watched a program at the planetarium. 

During the wolf lecture, the park official explained how wolves live in packs, their feeding habits and pack behavior, and then demonstrated how the wolves howl.  She prompted the wolves to howl with her own human “howl,” which involved cupping her hands to her mouth and then initiating a howling sound and was unlike an ordinary human imitation of a wolf howl.  The wolves responded slowly at first, and then all of them seemed to howl together.  This lasted several minutes.  It was quite loud, actually pretty fascinating to hear, and was the highlight of the trip.

We then proceeded to the planetarium.  The planetarium has a modern Carl Zeiss planetarium projector that allows the audience to sit back and look up onto the domed ceiling to watch an accurate representation of the night sky.  This was the first time I had seen a planetarium show since I was a child at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, so it was a treat.  The Bays Mountain Park website indicates they also have quality telescopes and allow the public to use them at designated times in the evenings.

Bays Mountain Park has a 44 acre lake named the Kingsport Reservoir that was apparently originally used as the major source of water for the city of Kingsport.  The lake has many inlets, lily pads, and bass and bluegill that were visible from the shore.  Overall, this park is a nice asset to the region, one often overlooked as a place for outdoor recreation considering how close it is to Abingdon and Southwest Virginia.  It’s definitely worth a day trip.

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Bald Eagle Spotted in Wythe County

Easter brought a surprise for my brother-in-law and his wife in southern Wythe County.  They spotted a bald eagle, and they were able to photograph it.  This eagle was immediately distinguishable from an osprey or a hawk because of its size; the eagle was about 200 feet from the road on the creek and may have just caught a fish as it was looking down towards its talons.  Here is one of the photographs taken with a point-and-shoot camera:

I was surprised that there were any eagles in the mountains of Virginia.  I personally have not seen a single bald eagle in the last 20+ years I have been hiking in the region.  As of the time of this writing there are no bald eagles officially reported in Wythe County per the Virginia Bald Eagle tracking program of the Center for Conservation Biology.  In fact, it looks like the only reported nesting areas in Southwestern Virginia are in Tazewell County and Buchanan County.  This would mean that this bald eagle was either migrating from another region or was a native resident that came here naturally and without human introduction.  For this reason—and in the interest of protecting it and the landowners—I won’t specifically identify where in the county it was seen. 

The mountainous areas of Wythe, Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties would seem to be logical areas of reintroduction for bald eagles since there are still remote, larger wilderness areas (by Eastern U.S. standards) and an abundance of creeks and streams with trout and other aquatic life for the eagle’s food supply.  While I have read they usually prefer large open bodies of water, it may be possible there are enough larger streams and lakes in Southwest Virginia to accommodate some of these animals.

Apparently the bald eagle’s plumage was not completely white; there were still some grey flecks visible.  As you can tell in the above photo, it does appear that it was not completely white.  According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries bald eagle fact page, a bald eagle does not fully obtain the characteristic white plumage until it is five years old, when it reaches maturity.  It is possible it was still a youngster, or it was wet and looked somewhat off-white.  In any event, it’s a remarkable thing that this grand bird of prey may be back in part of Southwestern Virginia.