While many people look forward to fall for football rivalries and tailgate parties, others enjoy a different pastime — foraging for fall’s crop of fungi.
In Alaska, the season’s fungi festivals will find enthusiasts lined up for hikes into the woods to search for lichens and forage for mushrooms.
In September, the Wrangell Ranger District on the Tongass National Forest hosted a two-day event near the Rainbow Falls Trail. Karen Dillman, the forest’s ecologist, and Kate Mohatt, an ecologist from the Chugach National Forest, shared a variety of tips and information on fungi with locals and visitors including information profiled in the video “The Mushroom Maven of the Chugach National Forest.” What are the differences between edible and poisonous mushrooms? The pair described how to look for telling colors of the mushrooms after they are cut open, as well as the distinctive features of the caps and ridges.
The Chugach National Forest sponsors two annual mushroom festivals to celebrate the variety of fungal species that grow in the rainy woods of south-central Alaska. Mushrooms with names like “chicken in the woods” are popular with attendees to the Girdwood Fungus Fair on the Glacier Ranger District in August, and the Cordova Fungus Festival on the Cordova Ranger District in September.
During the Girdwood festival, Mohatt addressed the competiveness of mushroom hunters and their desire to keep their best hunting spots secret. She also described how to find those special mushrooms that can be worked into culinary masterpieces and how to avoid those that can cause gastrointestinal distress – or worse.
The festival included mushroom hikes and dye-making classes. A Fungus Fair Formal was held in the Alyeska Resort Ballroom with a five-course gourmet meal highlighting and featuring different ways of using and enjoying mushrooms.
The Cordova Ranger District participated in daily guided forays into the woods, and staffed mushroom identification tables to help mushroom hunters identify different species.
Mohatt was featured in the video, I Am a Mushroom Hunter, as part of a new statewide series Indie Alaska by Alaska Public Media/PBS. Mohatt and Dillman also were part of creating Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska, a free, online brochure created by the Forest Service.