Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 66

GUEST COLUMN
By FRED ALSOP

Forks in the (East Tennessee) Road
Professor of Biological Sciences Dr.
Fred Alsop joined the faculty of East
Tennessee State University in 1972. He
is the author of 18 books on the birds
of North America, and is director of
the EagleCam Project that has livestreamed around the world the nesting
lives of two pairs of local bald eagles.
He is founding director of the George
L. Carter Railroad Museum, covering
Johnson City's railroad history, and
is the first faculty member elected to
ETSU's governing Board of Trustees.

N

ew York Yankees legend Yogi
Berra is often quoted for his
ability to turn a phrase. One
of my favorites is, "When
you come to a fork in the
road, take it." As I reflect on
my career after coming to
the Tri-Cities of Upper East Tennessee
in 1972 as the newest faculty member
of East Tennessee State University's Department of Biological Sciences, I have
found numerous forks in my road and
have had the fortunate opportunity to
take them with the help and encouragement of many colleagues and friends.
For a field biologist with a major interest in birds, this region, with its ancient mountains, diversity of habitats,
large blocks of National forests and welldefined seasons, is an outstanding place
to take students into the out-of-doors
and guide them into the pathways of
the natural wonders of the ecosystems
that abound here.
The five counties that form the easternmost segment of Tennessee have
more species of trees than exist in all of
Europe and more than 300 species of
birds (about 70 percent of the number
recorded for the entire state) occur here.
Tennessee has more native species of
freshwater fishes than any other state
and many occupy this area's waterways
from headwater mountain streams to
large rivers.
As an ornithologist and a birder I
have been fortunate to be able lead
many local bird walks and to write
books on birds of the region, of several
states, and for all of North America in
generalized laymen's terms to provide
interest and information to thousands

of people wanting to know more about
our wildlife.
Another fork in the road was the
challenge to set up live-streaming cameras of the active nests of two pairs of
bald eagles in the fall of 2015. With a
lot of research on other eagle cameras
across the country and the assistance
of local utility boards, numerous volunteers, active participation from sponsors
and donors-to only highlight a few-
we started from zero to having two cameras live-streaming during the daylight
hours from November 2015 through
the fledging of a chick from each nest
in June 2016.
We had in excess of 1 million hits
on our site from more than 160 countries and territories in that first season.
With more experience and better equipment in the following nesting season,
we increased the numbers of cameras,
including IR capabilities, and have had
our eagles viewed by thousands annually and have increased the number of
global locations of our viewers to more
than 206 countries and territories in the
2017-2018 nesting season. Many school
teachers bring our eagles into their classrooms.
Yet another Y in the road took the
"bird guy" into the mantle of the "train
guy." Johnson City, Tennessee's history
as a town tied to the development of
railroads with two major lines still bisecting the city.
Henry Johnson founded the town in
1856 when he built a depot and a water tank beside the railroad track. ETSU's
history became tied to the Clinchfield
Railroad when its president and CEO,
George L. Carter, presented his 120-acre
farm and $100,000 to the
state of Tennessee in 1909
to establish a normal school
here. The G.L. Carter Railroad Museum carries on the
history of the town and the
university.

Yet another Y in the road took the "bird
guy" into the mantle of the "train guy."
66

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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover1
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG1
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