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

Blue Ridge Escarpment Conservation Area

Conservations Areas: Fishhawk Mountain, Overflow Creek (Blue Valley), Terrapin Mountain, Panthertown Valley

Standing at the intersection of three states–North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia–is the massive cliff line of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Along this precipitous east-facing slope, the Blue Ridge Mountains drop off thousands of feet into the rolling piedmont.

It is an area of breathtaking beauty and exceptional species richness. The Nature Conservancy notes that the region boasts some of the highest natural diversity of rare plants and animals found anywhere on the planet, owing partly to its heavy annual rainfall–the highest east of the Pacific Northwest–and partly to its ruggedness, remoteness, and a wild character rare in the populous Eastern U.S. And within the tri-state area are 30 biological hotspots sheltering plants, amphibians, birds and mammals.

Its old-growth forests are exceptional as well. Field surveys of just the North Carolina portion of the area found nearly 2,800 acres of old-growth.

In all, the region encompasses over 400,000 acres of public lands–some in the Nantahala, Chattahoochee and Sumter National Forests, some in large state holdings in all three states. And it is the only place in the National Wilderness Preservation System where a designated wilderness laps into three states, the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. It encompasses 8,274 acres—the largest share, 3,394 acres, in North Carolina. The Ellicott Rock Wilderness straddles the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River which rises in North Carolina’s mountains and skirts Terrapin Mountain, a Mountain Treasure described below.

For all its wildness, much of the escarpment is unprotected from mounting threats. The region is a magnet for vacation homes and such recreational facilities as golf courses, and urban development inches northward from such places as Greenville. Biological diversity does not recognize ownership boundaries and, in fact, private lands may support more than public lands do. Only broad-based conservation efforts, across landscapes and ownerships, will ensure the region’s vitality for future generations. The upcoming forest plan revisions are a crucial step in that effort.

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