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

Harper Creek/Sugar Knob

14,767 acres NCMTA; 7,036 (HC) + 4944 (SK) = 11,980 acres PWA; 7,351 acres IRA/WSA

Recommendation: Wilderness Compatible designation within a Grandfather National Recreation Area (note Harpers Creek and Sugar Knob are a single area that should be considered as a PWA unit)

Naturalness: Forest in the area consists mostly of recovering mature forest in good ecological condition, and there are 224 acres of existing old growth. The Upper Wilson Creek, Lost Cove, Harper Creek, Sugar Knob complex of areas are clustered to the northeast of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and to the south-east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Each is separated from its neighbor only by an unpaved forest road. The four areas share natural features and values and for conservation purposes should be considered as a single, essentially unbroken wild area. The areas compose a unique natural feature dominating the ridges and valleys that fall from lands along the Blue Ridge Parkway along the side ridges to Wilson Creek.

Opportunities for Solitude: The area is isolated by side ridges and deep valleys stretching from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Wilson Creek. Like Lost Cove, the lower- lying areas along the creeks have the greatest recreational opportunities, and excellent solitude is found higher in the watersheds.

Opportunities for Recreation: The trail system in Haper Creek/Sugar Knob, is well developed and very popular, offering a fine variety of loops for camping and backpacking. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs through both wild areas. One of the prime attractions of Harper Creek and its neighbors are their streams, full of trout and waterfalls large and small. Trails access most of the area and provide access to impressive destinations including North Harper Creek Falls and South Harper Creek Falls. A portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail also travels through the area. Currently, some trails in Harper Creek are illegally used by mountain bikes, which is evidence of an unmet demand for mountain bike access in the Grandfather District. Meeting this demand should be a major focus of a Grandfather NRA.

Ecological and other values: Geologically, Harper Creek/Sugar Knob is within the Grandfather Mountain Window, an erosion feature that exposes ancient rocks where the once-overlying Blue Ridge Thrust Sheet has eroded away. Erosion has been at work here for over 300 million years. The area is a black bear sanctuary. 224 acres of old growth are found in the area. 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.

Three Significant Natural Heritage Areas are found wholly or partly within Harper Creek/Sugar Knob:

Wilson Creek Gorge

Harper Creek/Little Buck Mtn

Lost Cove Cliffs (NCNHP proposed for new priority SIA) Upper Creek Falls Forest

Manageability: Harper Creek/Sugar Knob lies just south of Lost Cove. The 1994 Forest Plan recommended Harper Creek it for wilderness designation, reflecting its unquestionable wilderness character. The contiguous Sugar Knob area, although not recommended in the previous plan, is a logical and ecologically appropriate addition to this area. The Upper Wilson Creek, Lost Cove, Harper Creek, Sugar Knob complex of areas are clustered to the northeast of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and to the south-east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. As noted above, we are working with a broad constituency with the goal of developing and proposing to the Forest Service an integrated wilderness and backcountry recreation strategy for the proposed Grandfather NRA.

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