Dempster meet and greet for folks, fungi and lichen

If the spectacular autumn colours weren't enough reason to take a drive up the Dempster Highway this weekend, Yukon Parks, the Yukon Arts Fund and the Friends of Dempster Country are providing extra incentive.

If the spectacular autumn colours weren’t enough reason to take a drive up the Dempster Highway this weekend, Yukon Parks, the Yukon Arts Fund and the Friends of Dempster Country are providing extra incentive with their annual lichen and fungi event, happening Friday through Sunday at Tombstone Territorial Park.

Part of the natural history special event series at Tombstone, the weekend will feature art workshops, nature walks and lectures, and perhaps most enticingly, a fungi-foraging hike and pot-luck lunch.

Cynthia Hunt, a Friends of Dempster Country member who spent 10 summers as a parks interpreter at Tombstone, took the lead on organizing the event. Though she’s enamoured of many aspects of the ecosystem in the area, she has a particular fondness for lichen.

“From an artistic perspective, lichen are very interesting to look at,” explains Hunt, a multi-disciplinary artist who often draws inspiration from flora and fauna in the Tombstone region.

“I find them fascinating because they are strange and different. They change all the time, but the can grow very slowly – sometimes it takes a year for them to grow just a centimetre. I’m always learning more about them – how they reproduce and the role that they play in the animal food chain.”

Mushrooms, too, are objects of Hunt’s affection, and she notes the sensory appeal of searching for them in the wild.

“I love identifying things in nature,” she says. “Mushrooms are fun because you get to smell them, you get to taste them, look at all their shapes and sizes, and do spore prints, which helps you determine what they are.”

There will be plenty of opportunities for Hunt and other like-minded nature lovers to satisfy their artistic and scientific curiosities about lichen and fungi. Friday night, Dawson-based artist Rian Lougheed-Smith, of the Klondike Drawing Company, will present an artist talk at the cook shelter at Tombstone campground, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The following day, she’ll lead a silkscreen workshop at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, beginning at 1 p.m.

Amateur botanists will want to join Berwyn Larson, known to many Yukoners as the face behind Uncle Berwyn’s Birch Syrup, for a lichen walk, beginning at the cook shelter at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. If you’ve been a “fungi” the night before and getting up early isn’t to your “lichen,” there will be another walk at 1 p.m., also beginning at the cook shelter, led by Whitehorse-based lichen expert Rhonda Kotelko. Kotelko will also present a botany talk at the same location at 7:30 p.m that day.

On Sunday, visitors can doff their caps to mushrooms, on a fungi foraging hike with Dawson-based chef Jeffrey Mickelson. Mickelson, who has gained Yukon notoriety for his use of wild mushrooms in the kitchen at Klondike Kates, will meet hikers at 9:30 a.m. at the cookshack, and then offer his culinary expertise at a mushroom pot luck in the cook shelter at 1 p.m.

Though Mickelson will undoubtedly have some insight as to which wild mushrooms are edible, the potluck will only feature commercial-grade mushrooms, just to be on the safe side. Visitors are also encouraged to bring other types of food to create a feast fit for a beautiful setting. All events are free, though donations to the Friends of Dempster Country are welcomed.

While Hunt hopes for co-operative weather, she reminds visitors to bring warm clothes and rain gear. Microscopes and eyepieces will be provided by park staff.

Camping spots at Tombstone territorial campground are often hard to come by during special event weekends, but there will be overflow camping near the interpretive centre. For more information, visit www.dempstercountry.ca or call (867) 993-2441.

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