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

Southern Nantahala Wilderness Extensions

Southern Nantahala Wilderness Extensions

Congress designated the Southern Nantahala Wilderness in 1984. Its 24,500 acres straddle the border of North Carolina and Georgia. Standing Indian Mountain, part of a south-facing horseshoe-shaped massif that forms the Tallulah River basin, dominates the area.

To the north, ridges radiate from the closed end toward the upper Nantahala River. All of the logical wilderness extensions involve these ridges and all would add to the value and integrity of the existing wilderness. Moving clockwise from the west to the north and then east around the closed end of the horseshoe the extensions are:

• Cherry Cove, another northwest-running basin connecting to wilderness in Georgia;

• Sharptop Ridge, a northwest-running ridge and stream basin connecting to the wilderness in Georgia;

• Chunky Gal, which includes ridges running west and northwest; Middle Ridge, Ravenrock Ridge, and Chunky Gal Mountain, which runs all the way out to U.S. Highway 64 and includes the Riley Knob white oak Forest Service Natural Area. This proposed extension is the largest and very important. It includes Whiteoak Stamp, a rare high elevation mountain bog, as well as Muskrat Cove with its possible virgin timber.

Another important biological site is Riley Knob, which is influenced by nutrient-rich amphibolites rock and home to one of the largest populations of the globally rare glade spurge.

Catesbys Trillium. Photo by Lamar Marshall

The Appalachian Trail runs along the east boundary of this area coming north from Georgia. Chunky Gal Mountain is really a major spur of Boteler Peak to the northwest, and provides a trail corridor to the Boteler Peak Roadless Area and beyond to the Tusquittee Roadless Area;

• Yellow Mountain, another northwest-running ridge just northeast of Chunky Gal and separated from it by a road. It has seen some more recent logging;

• Little Indian, essentially the basin of Little Indian Creek that feeds into the Nantahala River to the north-northeast. Congress arbitrarily set the north and east boundaries of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness to follow the 4,400-foot contour line rather than to the logical physical boundary of the Nantahala River. Protection of the Little Indian unit would correct the problem;

• Barkers Creek includes over 900 acres inventoried as road-less and this area could expanded to nearly 2,000 acres. Falls Branch, Barkers Creek, and Commissioner Creek are beautiful mountain streams that flow south into Betty Creek. Like much of the Nantahala Mountains, nutrient rich amphibolite rock produces a lush diversity of plant life and this section of the Mountain Treasures supports five occurrences of Montane Cedar-Hardwood Woodland, are natural community that is habitat for many rare plants and animals.

The heart of the largest western segment is Chunky Gal Mountain which stretches from the Tennessee Valley Divide to Boteler Peak. Chunky Gal Mountain contains 1,523 acres of old-growth. The area connects to the Boteler Peak unit at Glade Gap and allows hikers and game to move freely into Tusquitee Bald and Cheoah Bald further north. It contains the Appalachian Trail, the Chunky Gal Trail and other day hiking trails that get extensive use. The hike along Chunky Gal Mountain on the namesake trail passes by wonderful old-growth oaks. Forest visitors also use the trails near the Standing Indian campground extensively.

This extension of the existing Southern Nantahala Wilderness is a keystone in creating both a bear corridor and primitive backpacking corridor between the Southern Nantahala and areas to the north and it should be permanently protected.

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