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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Carolina Rain Forest

The landscape and diverse wildlife population in the Blue Ridge Mountains’ temperate rain forest is a photographer’s dream

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Clay Bolt is passionate about nature’s little critters, or the “underdogs,” as he likes to call them. With a wealth of biodiversity in South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, he doesn’t lack subject matter and finds that macro photography often is the best approach. Above: Trillium just before bloom
South Carolina probably isn’t the first place that jumps to mind when thinking about rain forests around the world. But consider, then, the 80 to 90 inches of rain that falls each year in the mountainous area known as the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, a total area that ranks second to the Pacific Northwest as far as rainfall in all of the United States goes.

Consider that there are more tree species here than in all of Europe, more moss types than in the state of California and ferns that are only elsewhere found in the Amazon. Then consider that land development, invasive species and other threats may alter the way this land looks and functions over the next 15 years.

Clay Bolt thought about all of this when he started using his camera to do more than just capture these mountains as a nature photographer. He decided to use his pictures to play a role in educating the public about why this region is so ecologically valuable and what challenges it faces, and to drum up support for preservation.

“There was a point when I realized I was profiting off all of these different species and landscapes, and doing nothing to give back,” Bolt recalls. So he called The Nature Conservancy, offering up his services to do whatever the organization wanted in terms of photographing the region for promotional material, educational purposes and other needs.

Wells drilled into a tree by yellow-bellied sapsuckers so they can drink its sap
Inspired by Jim Brandenburg’s Looking for the Summer, which captures the spirit of the northern Minnesota wilderness, Bolt set out to take pictures from a more artistic point of view. He likes to get close. This is partly because the eastern half of the U.S. has a fairly dense landscape, making it difficult to get those spectacular shots of open vistas that permeate the West. So for Bolt, macro was a better way to approach the area photographically. Plus, with more than 300 rare plant and animal species in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, there would be no shortage of subject matter.

Rare green salamander
The area, also known as the Blue Wall, is found in the most northwestern corner of the state. This wall of rock drops nearly 2,000 feet from its peak in just under two miles, creating a boundary between the southern Appalachian Mountains and a band of rolling hills known as the Piedmont. This is home to 40 percent of the state’s rare plant and animal species, and supports some of the largest biomass and diversity in the eastern U.S.

Bolt’s work began with capturing the Blue Wall Preserve, one of the first in the state to be managed by The Nature Conservancy. This led him to take on more projects in South Carolina’s mountains, which often are overshadowed by the coastline. Mostly, he shoots properties that are privately owned, giving the public visual access to an ecosystem that in some ways is hidden from view.

“I feel like I have a golden key to some of these places where these rare and endemic species live,” he says. “I get to take these great images and do something for the state of South Carolina.”

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