California native brings expertise to Roan as naturalist

Published 11:52 am Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contributed Photo/SAHC Lee Farese, center, meets with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's John O'dell, left, and Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club's Joe Deloach for an orientation on Friday, May 15.

Contributed Photo/SAHC
Lee Farese, center, meets with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s John O’dell, left, and Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club’s Joe Deloach for an orientation on Friday, May 15.

While there have been caretakers, seasonal ecologists and ridgerunners work in the Roan Highlands in the past, Lee Farese will be the first person to serve under the position’s new title — Roan naturalist.
Farese views this opportunity, which is a joint effort between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, as an honor.
“I’m a little intimidated, but I’m very excited,” said Farese, who is 24 years old. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Farese attempted to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2013, but made it as far as Blood Mountain in Georgia before he was forced to end the hike.
“It snowed one day,” he said. “I hit a patch of ice, slid and tweaked something in my knee that I couldn’t get rid of.”
The end of that journey brought him to the beginning of a new one.
“I stayed in Georgia for a month until I went up to Grassy Ridge to work,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Farese was the first to be stationed at Grassy Ridge when SHAC bought the property.
“When they first bought it, I stayed up there for about three weeks,” he said. “I cleaned up the cabin and did a little bit of work around the property.”
Farese also completed naturalist-oriented work during that time.
“I checked into what bird and plant species were up there on the property,” he said. “That’s how I was first connected to SAHC.”
As the Roan naturalist, Farese will be patrolling a 13-mile section of the A.T. with 80 percent of trail time spent between Carvers Gap and Grassy Ridge, according to SAHC.
An application for a Roan naturalist position was passed along to him this year and Farese was happy to accept the position.
He is proud to be a representative of the ATC, SAHC and the Roan Highlands area.
“It’s a big responsibility,” he said. “I’m just really honored to have the chance to do that.”
One of the most impressive accolades Farese has on his resume came during his study at Colorado College. The college has a new topic of study thanks to Farese’s work on the graduate level.
“I wrote my own major,” he said.
He titled the major environmental humanities. Farese explained that instead of teaching people how to treat the world in certain ways, his major explores the reasons why people treat the world certain ways.
“It looks into environmental and ecological issues through a humanities lens rather than a science lens,” he said. “It was great. I really love literature so it allowed me to study that. It also allowed me to study philosophy and also a lot of natural sciences and ecology while I was there.”
Farese’s interest in the outdoors and spending a lot of time in the woods has been life long.
“After a while I started wanting to learn what was in the woods,” he said. “I started wanting to know what kind of trees were there. Then I started wanting to know what was in the trees, so I started learning about birds.”
Ornithology is one of Farese’s biggest passions now.
“I’ve studied a lot about birds and bird language,” he said. “I worked for a bird observatory while I was in Colorado, too.”
Even though Farese claims to have more knowledge of birds than any other ecological aspect, he said his interests do not stop there.
“I try to learn whatever I can about the whole system,” he said. “Most of my actual course work is in more general forest ecology. I’m always learning, which is really beautiful.”
Farese also worked at one of the most climbed mountains in Colorado. It was there that he found a job as a caretaker at a backpacker’s refuge halfway up Pike’s Peak.
“I worked two summers on Pike’s Peak,” he said. “The first time I was living at 10,000 feet in a boreal forest. The second year I was there, I worked as a botanist.”
Farese also participated in environmental education work in the Bay Area. He is originally from Marin County California.
“We took underserved inner-city youth out into natural areas to do habitat restoration,” he said.
Farese’s new job entails learning about all of the aspects that make the Roan unique and passing all of that information along to guests. Farese hopes his presence on the mountain strengthens hikers’ appreciation of the area.
“I would really love to find a way to deepen the connection between the people and the place,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how that will look, but that’s my goal.”
Stewardship begins by building up a person’s relationship and understanding of an area, Farese said.
Farese thinks his job is important because he is the person facilitating a higher level of understanding about the Roan. Otherwise, the area may not be respected or taken care of in an appropriate way.
“When a person is in a place as beautiful and spectacular as the Roan, that’s a prime moment to open up that relationship,” he said. “The Roan is such a unique, and in many ways, delicate place. It seems very important that someone is there to be a voice for it.”

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