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

Tusquitee Bald

29,190 acres NCMT; 18,489 acres PWA; 13,636 acres IRA

Recommendation: Much of the Mountain Treasure area (expanded from current PWA) should be recommended for wilderness. There is some opportunity for Backcountry and Restoration focus in portions of the area.

Naturalness: The entire Fires Creek Watershed is included within the Tusquitee Bald Mountain Treasure Area. The watershed is designated by the state of NC as Outstanding Resource Waters, trout waters, and water supply watershed. The area is one of the largest, unprotected primitive areas in the Nantahala National Forest. Over 13,000 acres have been inventoried as roadless. The area consists of a horseshoe-shaped rim of mountains rising from 1,900 feet on the southwest end of the horseshoe to 5,200 feet on the northeast end. Fires Creek drains the 15,000 acre interior basin, which is a bear sanctuary, a wildlife management area, and a North Carolina State Natural Heritage Area. The only road access from outside the basin is from the southwest near Leatherwood Falls. To the northeast is the adjoining Piercy Bald Mountain Treasure area. To the southeast, the Boteler Peak area joins at Big Tuni Creek and the Bob Allison Campground

Opportunities for Solitude: The area is accessed from a road along Fires creek, but it is easy to find solitude within the area. The rugged rim of this area provides an authentic wilderness experience. The trail network provides many different options for loops and point-to-point excursions, making it possible to use the area without encountering other visitors.

Opportunities for Recreation: The area is rich with hiking trails. The principal trail, and one of the premier backpacking trails in western North Carolina, is the 26-mile Rim Trail which circles the basin on the sometimes knife-edged ridge, affording excellent views.

Chunky Gal Trail leaves the Tusquitee Bald area and runs southeast down Big Tuni Creek to the Boteler Peak Mountain Treasure area and on to join the Appalachian Trail at White Oak Stamp in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness. The Old Road Gap Trail runs northeast from the Tusquitee Bald Area to the Piercy Bald Mountain Treasure Area, providing access here to the North Carolina sections of the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Trout fishing in Fires Creek and several other streams in the basin is excellent. Equestrian users value this area highly.

Ecological and other values: The pristine waters of Fires Creek support several rare aquatic species including Hiwassee Headwaters Crayfish and Hellbender. The rare southern water shrew inhabits the streamside zone as does one of the largest and most robust populations of the rare mountain camellia. The area has at least 4,007 acres of existing old growth forest. With an elevation gradient extending from 1,600 feet to 5,200 feet in one of the most southern natural areas and intact watersheds in Western NC, it offers excellent opportunity for climate adaptation through species adapting through movement along this gradient. The area also ties in with the greater network of natural areas in the Nantahala Mountains connecting from the east with Boteler Peak, Chunky Gal and Southern Nantahala Wilderness and to the north with other areas of the Nantahala Mountains and the Unicoi Mountains.

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 Montane Oak, Appalachian Cove Hardwood, Appalachian Hemlock-Hardwood; Appalachian Oak, Appalachian Oak –xeric; and Small Stream and Riparian.

Two State Natural Heritage Areas are located wholly or partly within the extensions: Fires Creek Rim Fires Creek Gorge

Western Valley River Mountains

Manageability: As a self-contained watershed within a defined horseshoe mountain structure, the Tusquitee Bald area is extremely manageable. Road and other infrastructure along the main Fires Creek corridor provides access for maintenance and recreation, while the rugged slopes and mountains above the valley provide opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation.

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