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Call of the Wild: Tips for BMC Walk Leaders

Have you been on a scheduled walk lately? Were you able to find parking? A perfect storm of media attention, COVID boredom, and, well, storms has brought new crowds to old trail heads. While everyone is welcome, crowd sizes of 60, 80, 100, or more people have taxed our walk leaders to the limit.

Frankly, we need more walk leaders to either officially lead a scheduled walk or to assist the official walk leader by taking on a subgroup of their own.

Are you ready to take the lead? (Short answer: yes.) Here are a few things it’s helpful for you to know:

You don’t have to be an expert on everything

Seriously, leaders are NOT expected to identify every mushroom attendees snatch from the Earth. Instead, as the late Gary Lincoff once said to our own Dave Babik, “You don’t need to identify every mushroom but you should always find something to say about it.” Given all the wonderful characteristics fungi exhibit, you shouldn’t be at a loss for words.

Help navigate the trails

If a scheduled walk falls upon one of your regular trails, please volunteer to help lead the walk. Your knowledge of the lay of the land will help us make the best use of precious field time.

Share best collecting practices

You know the correct way to collect (i.e., capture the whole base/bulb, minimize contact with the stipe, minimize local disturbance, etc.). Show the newbies what to do.

Share situational awareness

As a beginner, I was too eager to throw mushrooms into my basket without thinking. Then, when it was time to identify my finds, I was without knowledge: what substrate was the mushroom on? What trees were nearby? When it comes to identification, haste does indeed make waste. Help direct participants’ attention to:

  • Substrate: what is/was the mushroom on? Decaying wood? Living moss? Side of a tree? On the ground? This is critical keying information that’s all too easy to overlook.
  • Habit: are/were the specimens solitary, scattered, gregarious, or clustered? Help newbies understand the differences.
  • Habitat: where are/were they? Dry upland or down in the wetlands? If on a hill, which compass direction was it facing? (Yes, this can be helpful.) Most importantly, what trees are nearby that may be hosting these mushrooms?

Probe for other natural knowledge

Yeah, we’re a mushroom club. But our hearts and minds are open to all of nature’s wonders. If you have something useful to say about the things you see – plants, trees, birds, herps, insects, rocks, etc. – go ahead and point it out. And ask others on the walk to do the same. (In rainy seasons, this point may be moot – there’ll be more than enough mushrooms to hold our attention. But when it’s dry, appreciating the nonfungal aspects of our world can rescue an otherwise disappointing walk.)

Help at the table

Our walks conclude at a table where we share and ID our finds. We will always appreciate a volunteer who can stand at the table and help manage the goodies: arranging the finds by the major taxa, eliminating the redundant specimens, encouraging people to step away from the table once their specimens have been spread out. A neat, well-organized table makes for a much more rewarding ID session.

Help with identification

No one knows everything. But maybe you know a lot about milk mushrooms or wax caps or boletes. Take your pick. Then take responsibility for that group so that the ID leader doesn’t have to cover the whole table.

Final tip: ask the walk leader how you can help

Either by email in advance of the walk, or on the site itself, introduce yourself to the walk leader and simply ask how you can help. Chances are, there’s something both meaningful and fun for you to do.

That’s it! Being a BMC member is fun; being an active, contributing member is even more fun. Come join the party by becoming part of our cohort of walk leaders and assistants.