Craggy Mountains (Big Ivy)
Approximate size: 10,616 acres
Roadless acreage: 2,659 acres
Old growth acreage: 3,691 acres
Location: Buncombe County, NC, 12 miles southwest of Burnsville; Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest
USGS Topographic Maps: Mt. Mitchell, Barnardsville, Montreat, Craggy Pinnacle
The Craggy Mountains form the western edge of the larger Black Mountains Conservation Area, extending from the high elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 6,000 feet down to lower elevation rich coves at 3,000 feet.
The area, also known as Big Ivy, which takes its name from the river with headwaters in the area, is extremely important for its biological diversity and scenic and recreational values. It includes the Craggy Mountain Wilderness Study Area, Big Butt Ridge and much of the land in between, including the Walker Cove Natural Area. Although an isolated section of national forest land, it is well connected to the rest of the Black Mountains through protected conservation lands, the Asheville Watershed and the Big Tom Wilson Preserve.
The Craggy Mountains are home to numerous rare species and extensive old growth. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) recognizes several Natural Heritage Areas containing significant biological habitat within this Mountain Treasure. A botanist working with the NCNHP documented 40 locations of 32 rare plant species.
A large designated Forest Service old growth patch stands within this area, and there are four verified sites containing 2,857 acres of old growth forest. Most of the old growth sites overlap with areas of significant biological habitat. There remains virgin forest in the Craggy Mountain area: researchers found a 300-year-old sugar maple in an area called Walker Cove and there are very ancient trees on Big Butt Ridge. The combination of extensive old-growth forests, high elevation peaks and the rich soils derived from magnesium-rich mafic rock make the Craggy Mountains an incomparable natural area.
Some of the world’s best examples of Rich Cove Forest, Hemlock Forest, Northern Hardwoods Forest, High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane Mafic Cliff, Montane Cedar-Hardwood Woodland, and High Elevation Rocky Summit Natural Communities are found in the Craggies. Robust black bear, brook trout, and songbird populations correspond with the fecundity of the vegetation. Hiking in the Craggies brings one into contact with a natural world so diverse and wonderful that one cannot help be awed by the world we inhabit.
Congress designated the 2,380-acre Craggy Mountain Wilderness Study Area in 1984 and the Forest Service recommended it for wilderness designation in 1987. Legislation to designate the area passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990, but did not clear the Senate.
The area contains spectacular trails including those leading from the popular Craggy Gardens Visitor Center through virgin stands of hemlock and oak to the lovely Douglas Falls and Carter Falls. Although the Craggy Mountain Wilderness Study Area itself is protected, most of the rest of the area is open to logging and road building.