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

Snowbird

8,973 acres NCMT; 8,489 acres PWA; 8,286 acres IRA/WSA

Recommendation: The entire Snowbird Mountain Treasure Area should be recommended for wilderness.

Naturalness: The Snowbird Creek watershed is extremely important for its scenic and recreational values as well as its biodiversity and landscape connectivity. After studying Snowbird Creek, the U.S. Forest Service in 1994 found it qualified for protection as a National Wild and Scenic River. The roadless area encompasses the entire upper watershed of the creek, including major tributaries Sassafras Branch and Meadow Branch. The Snowbird Creek watershed is well-known for its trout fishing. The Bemis Hardwood Lumber Company logged the valley in the early 1940s using a logging railroad that changed from standard to narrow gauge at Junction. Because of its low value at the time, most of the hemlock was left, and magnificent specimens, though dying, are scattered throughout the watershed. Some large American chestnut trees remain at the upper end of the valley. The forest that was logged is recovering well. Above High Falls the creek supports a reproducing population of native brook trout. Hooper Bald, one of the largest balds in the Southeast, lies adjacent to the upper boundary of the area. Near the top of the area is McGuires, site of an old hunting lodge. The pens still stand from which Russian wild boars escaped into the neighboring mountains. Sycamore Creek roadless area adjoins Snowbird Creek on the Tennessee side of the divide to the west, creating a larger contiguous natural area connecting with other wildland areas across the mountain divide in Tennessee.

Opportunities for Solitude: The area is served by an extensive network of trails. A main trail runs up Snowbird Creek using the old logging railroad bed. Several other trails provide access to the tributary streams and the ridges. The area is very isolated and provides one of the best primitive wilderness experiences in Western North Carolina.

Opportunities for Recreation: The recreation experience in Snowbird is of a different character than most places on the Nantahala-Pisgah. Trails here are difficult to follow and strenuous. For a certain type of user, this is an incomparable, highly valued resource.

Trekking through Snowbird allows the visitor to experience the past in a unique way. The distant past, with primeval forest character, is juxtaposed with the more recent past, and a visitor is left with the overwhelming and humbling feeling that this forest is reclaiming its former sovereignty. Unlike many areas where man has left his imprint, this area is erasing those impacts on a human time scale.

Ecological and other values: The Snowbird Mountain Treasure Area is important and irreplaceable habitat for rare organisms like the Junaluska Salamander, found only in the Unicoi Mountains, the hellbender, and the Federally Endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel. The Snowbird area is well connected to other wilderness and roadless areas in the Unicoi Mountains, providing habitat for animals needing isolation from human influence as well as landscape connectivity across a wide area. This network of wildlands in the Unicoi Mountains constitutes one of the most intact and least fragmented wildland areas in the east outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 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 Forest.

One State Natural Heritage Area is located within the Snowbird area: Snowbird Creek/Hooper Bald Ridge (NCNHP proposed for new priority SIA)

Manageability: The upper Snowbird Watershed is completely included within the Mountain Treasure Area. As such the area is manageable as a unit. The inaccessibility of the area and the high wilderness values of the area dictate that the management should be as wilderness.

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