North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
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Linville Gorge Wilderness Extensions

Linville Gorge Wilderness Extensions

Approximate size: 3,464 acres

Roadless acreage: 2,800 acres

Old growth acreage: 134 acres

Location: Burke County, NC, 14 miles northwest of Morganton; Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest

USGS Topographic Maps: Ashford, Linville Falls, Chestnut Mountain, Oak Hill

Linville Gorge, sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” is one of the most rugged and scenic areas in the east. The Linville River is unusual because it rises west of the Blue Ridge and cuts a gorge through the Blue Ridge Escarpment for 12 miles. Linville Gorge has the best exposure of one of the largest thrust faults in the United States and is one of the few primeval gorge areas in the Appalachians.

In 1951, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service designated the Linville Gorge a “wild area.” The Wilderness Act of 1964 included Linville Gorge as one of the original components of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The original designation protected 7,575 acres. The North Carolina Wilderness Act of 1984 increased it to today’s 12,002 acres. The Linville Gorge Extensions adjoin the southern half of Linville Gorge Wilderness.

Today, much of the land in the proposed extension is zoned to allow for timber cutting. Given these areas’ exceptional wilderness potential, they deserve to be far better protected. The smaller of the two extensions lies on the southwest side of the Linville Gorge Wilderness, just east of the Kistler Memorial Highway.

Linville Gorge

The Dobson Knob Roadless Area (and Mountain Treasure Area) is across the Kistler Memorial Highway from this Linville Gorge extension. The North Carolina Mountain-to-Sea Trail skirts the northern boundary. The larger of the two extensions is on the southeast side of the existing wilderness. It is east of Shortoff Mountain and just west of Chimney Gap. This section is inventoried roadless and contains headwater branches of Irish and Russell Creeks. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail passes along the western border of this addition as well. Some of the extensive old growth found in the currently designated wilderness extends into the southwestern addition.

A large designated Forest Service old growth patch centered on Linville Gorge extends into most of the southeast addition. In 2007 the Shortoff and Pinnacle Fires burned thousands of acres on the southern end of Linville Gorge and its extensions. These fires leveled hundreds of acres of forest which are re-vegetating as woodlands with a diverse herb layer of grasses and wildflowers. Unfortunately, invasive species such as princess tree are a serious concern in Linville Gorge and its potential additions. The Forest Service could use substantial public support in the form of volunteerism to control invasive species across the forest.

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