Mountain towns feature forays, lectures and even zany mushroom parades
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With names like stinky squid, witch’s hat and purple fairy club, what’s not to love about mushrooms?
And even though some people see them as nothing more that squishable low-life equivalent of slugs, for others there’s nothing more delicious than a slice of forest fungus freshly fried in olive oil or butter.
The problem is knowing what’s good and what’s not. There are only a few deadly species of mushrooms that grow in Colorado, but one is all it takes to have a really bad day, so before heading into the woods to stock up on porcini and chanterelles, it’s worth taking the time to learn the difference.
Each year at the peak of Colorado mushroom season, several mountain towns host festivals and forays aimed at helping visitors the understand the important role fungi play in forest ecology, and to identify some of the many species that grow in mossy glades, on piney forest floors or in grassy meadows.The rest of the story and more pics after the break …
Most of the festivals include indoor presentations on basic identification techniques and mushroom ecology, but the real action is during the forest forays, when experienced mushroom experts show where to look for mushrooms and how to collect them for the kitchen or for scientific study. At the end of the day, some of the harvest is cooked to let everyone taste the savory pleasures of freshly harvested mushrooms.
Telluride takes it all one step higher. The state’s oldest and most renowned mushroom festival features all of the above, plus a zany parade with local dignitaries joining guests, poets and musicians in full mushroom regalia.
The Telluride festival also focuses on the role of fungi in science and culture, with presentations from experts like Paul Stamets, who has pioneered numerous environmental applications for fungi, including for pest control and for restoration of forest logging roads. Stamets has also written books on psychoactive fungi and how they are part of indigenous cultures around the world. His talk this year is called How Mushrooms can Save the World.
Another featured guest at Telluride this year is Gary Lincoff, author of the North American Audubon Field Guide for mushrooms.
This year’s 30th annual Telluride festival is set for Aug. 26 -29. Get all the information here.
Creede, in Lake County, also features an annual foray, scheduled this year for Aug. 20-21, when Colorado mushroom expert Larry Renshaw helps mushroom lovers identify the different wild mushrooms common to the Rocky Mountains. Get all the information on the Creede festival here.
The Creede foray isn’t as highly promoted as the Telluride event, but the huge expanse of national forests around the town, combined with fewer visitors in the area, often means there’s an abundance of mushrooms, as long as the weather cooperates.
This year, the Buena Vista King Boletus festival is scheduled for Aug. 21-22 to coincide with prime growing time for the prized Boletus edulis, also known as porcini, cep or Steinpilz. In summers like this one, when monsoon rains soak the forest floor, the prized edibles can grow in vast quantities beneath majestic stands of spruce and fir trees.
Like the other events, the Buena Vista festival also aims to educate guests about mushroom collecting ethics and identification techniques, with a few hours indoors to go over the basics, followed by several forest hikes to gather mushrooms. This is the 14 the year for King Boletus event, started in 1996 as a fundraiser for the town’s heritage organization. It’s been held every year since then except 2002 when Colorado suffered a historic drought.
Along with popular edible varieties, Colorado’s forests feature hundreds of other species that help sustain and nurture forests and wildlife. Many of the the fungi grow in a mycorhizzal relationship with trees. The “roots” of the mushrooms (called the mycelium) grow together with the roots of trees, shrubs and flowering plants to help them absorb critical nutrients from the soil. In exchange, the fungi get carbohydrates from the roots.
Learn more about the ecology of Rocky Mountain mushrooms at these Summit Voice stories.