North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
Help Protect the Vulnerable Wildlands of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests
 

Black Mountains Area

17,914 in NCMT (also includes the Bearwallow IRA); 11,751 acres in the PWA, 10,591 acres IRA

Recommendation: The entire Mountain Treasure area (minus Bearwallow) should be recommended for wilderness. Bearwallow should be placed into Backcountry management. Some spruce restoration within Bearwallow could be appropriate.

Naturalness: The Black Mountains Area is one of the premier wildland areas in the East. It is adjacent to Mount Mitchell State Park and includes the peaks and slopes of the Black Mountain Crest. Although portions of the area were logged during the same period when Mount Mitchell was logged, it has significant remaining old growth, including old growth recognized by the Forest Service within the Middle Creek Research Natural Area.

Numerous outstanding landscape features (high mountain peaks, views, unique ecosystems and geological features, beautiful waterfalls) makes this area an exceptional resource. The landscape context of the Black Mountain area with adjacent and nearby lands (additional national forest wildland areas including Big Ivy, the Big Tom Wilson Preserve, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt Mitchell State Park, and the Asheville Watershed) places the Black Mountains PWA in one of the most remote areas in the southern Appalachians that retains important elements of natural character.

Opportunities for Solitude: The Black Mountain Crest Trail is the highest in the Appalachian Mountains and is considered one of the most rugged and difficult hikes in the East. Several side trails from the South Toe River Valley and the Mount Mitchell area make numerous circuit hikes possible. Hiking the Crest Trail and difficult side trails requires commitment and ability beyond that of the casual day hiker, and the area therefore offers exceptional opportunities for solitude.

Opportunities for Primitive Recreation: The primitive recreation experience available in the Blacks is unmatched in the East. The elevation and ruggedness force visitors to rely on their own skills in inclement and fast-changing weather. Hikers are treated to iconic views of the East’s greatest peaks. The Blacks provide an unforgettable and authentic wilderness recreation experience.

Ecological and other values: Extensive spruce-fir forests along the high elevations of the area represent one of the most extensive reserves of this ecological type in the Southern Appalachians. A number of rare species and rare habitats are found in the area. The Middle Creek Research Natural Area within the area recognizes unique old growth forest and important ecological communities. There is a total of approximately 3,064 acres of existing old growth forest within the area. The Black Mountain/Celo Knob and the Upper Bolens Creek Significant Natural Heritage areas lie within this area (7,524 acres of State Natural Heritage Areas within this PWA). Opportunities to increase the ecological representation of ecological types that are currently under-represented in the Wilderness Preservation system include a variety of ecological types especially Appalachian Cove Hardwood, Appalachian Hemlock-Hardwood; Appalachian Oak, Appalachian Oak –xeric; Appalachian Montane Oak, and Small Stream and Riparian.

Because the Blacks were formed by a younger upthrust (compared to the rest of the Blue Ridge), they offer a unique geology.

This area’s scenic qualities are indescribable. With views of charismatic giants like Cattail Peak and Balsam Cone along the main ridgeline, views of the Blue Ridge to the south and east, and views of Big Butt to the west, the Blacks provide the most dramatic mountain landscape in the South.

Manageability: This inventoried roadless area and potential wilderness area is virtually road free. The area includes the entire high ridge and slopes above the South Toe Valley from Mount Mitchell to Burnsville. It is geographically well defined and configured for management as a wilderness area. Additional adjacent and nearby lands managed for conservation include the Big Tom Wilson Preserve, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt Mitchell State Park, the Asheville Watershed, and additional Forest Service lands, placing the Black Mountains PWA in a complex of public and private lands where Wilderness management is important for the larger context. The NC High Peaks Trail Association, the local entity that maintains the area’s trails, including the Black Mountain Crest Trail that traverses this area, has voted in favor of Wilderness recommendation, pledging to uphold maintenance techniques as appropriate for Wilderness designation.

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