TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas resident roams eight states with the start of each spring, hauling a refrigerated trailer, living in a tent, looking for the morel mushrooms that he’s hunted since childhood.
40-year-old Ryan Gregg, of Lawrence, collected nearly 1,800 pounds of the mushrooms last year in his travels. He started a website for morel hunters four years ago, when he also started hauling his trailer across the nation’s midsection, starting in Texas and Oklahoma and moving north.
His hunting started when he was about 10 and lived on 80 wooded acres near Lawrence, a hotbed for morels, which are prized for their nutty, meaty flavor. The conically shaped mushrooms pull hunters into the woods and along riverbanks for weeks between late March and mid-May.
“It’s like an Easter Egg hunt,” Gregg said.
Gregg lives in Lawrence with his wife and four children. As recently as five years ago, Gregg said a fraction of today’s mushroom hunters scoured area trails near Clinton Lake or the Kansas River. Part of the reason he began traveling, Gregg said, is because the mushroom hunting scene had grown so much.
Last year was a great year for mushrooms in Kansas, he said. This season started slow, but morels will still be found until temperatures climb to the mid-80s. He must take a “weekend warrior” approach this year, with family trips planned for Nebraska and Montana so far.
He said he sold morels he collected last year to wholesalers who sent them to restaurants in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas. Gregg said he spent three months “just living in a tent, moving where the mushrooms were.”
When Gregg visited his friend Steve King’s property recently, they experienced what he called “mushroom weather,” cool with an overcast sky and a faint drizzle. They walked a trail leading to pond where ash and elm trees stood tall, signally morel patches.
As they walked, Gregg’s eyes scanned both sides of the trail. Spotting a thicket of morels, he crawled across rocks, dirt and leaves, coming eye level with the mushrooms as he pulled out a large knife and neatly sliced each mushroom’s stem.
It’s a habit he said he found useful in selling the mushrooms: No customer wants a dirty or crushed stem.
Mushrooms aren’t the only discoveries he’s made on his wider rambles. Gregg said he found as many crack pipes as mushrooms one year in a stretch of woods in Oklahoma. And once, as Gregg hunted in “in the middle of nowhere” in Kansas he found six abandoned puppies, one of which he kept as his own: Victor, an Australian kelpie.