Festival of Fun(gi)

Izaak Walton League’s Mushroom Foray

On Sept. 11, deep in the woods of Leesburg, mushroom enthusiasts gathered under the Izaak Walton League’s Loudoun County pavilion to participate in the annual celebration of all things fungi.

The league is constantly looking for new ways to introduce locals to environmental conservation, and fungi are an often overlooked part of our ecosystem. “Mushroom Day” was added to the organization’s long list of community functions two years ago as a hands-on introduction to mycology for those interested.

“The Izaak Walton League is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States,” Conservation Director Paul Kreinsgold said. “We run a conservation education program and we have a whole bunch of events. This is just one of them.”

The day began with a full-length presentation on mushroom identification, foraging, and cultivation by Ilona Connolly, former President of the Mycological Association of Washington, DC. Shielded by the light rain in the league’s outdoor classroom, attendees sat enthralled by her lively audio-visual guide to fruiting fungi.

“My grandparents grew up in Austria, and it was sort of a common pastime to go mushroom-hunting on Sunday morning,” Connolly said. “So I started picking mushrooms when I was a kid, and then about 30 years ago I joined Washington’s Mycological Association.”

Following the presentation, the event organizers led their guests in a spirited foray into the surrounding 88 acres of forest. The result was a table filled with freshly-foraged mushrooms, all by beginners, the sight of which would cause a mycologist’s heart to swell.

“I joined the Izaak Walton League two years ago, and I told Paul about my interest in mushrooms,” Connolly said. “We do this one event each year, one day of mushroom hunting. We’re trying to bring mushrooms from other places to seed them here.”

We’re trying to bring mushrooms from other places to seed them here.”

— Ilona Connolly

Once all the fungal findings were accounted for, attendees got to work with identifying their mushrooms under the guidance of the staff. Mushroom cultivator David Crenshaw was particularly involved in this process, showing off his extensive knowledge of mycology as well as a few of his own specimens.

“When COVID-19 hit, I started several hobbies, but mycology really stuck,” Crenshaw said. “I love mushrooms of all sorts. I like to go after them in their natural state and forage, and I have a lab to grow edible mushrooms.”

It’s safe to say that everyone went home feeling like champ-ignons after Izaak Walton’s Mushroom Day and next year has the potential to be even more fung-tastic. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all mushrooms are meant to be eaten–be sure to use professional resources before consuming something you’ve foraged.

“Never ever eat a mushroom unless you have positively identified it as edible,” Connolly said. “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”