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

Santeetlah Headwaters

Santeetlah Headwaters

Approximate Size: 4,433 acres

Old Growth Acreage: 1,173 acres

Location: Graham County, North Carolina, 11 miles northwest of Robbinsville, Nantahala National Forest, Cheoah Ranger District

USGS Topographic Maps: McDaniel Bald, Unaka

The centerpiece of the Santeetlah Headwaters area is the 5565’ Huckleberry Knob, the tallest mountain in the Unicoi Range and the source of the clear, bold waters of Santeetlah Creek. Extending northeast from its summit are Doc Stewart and Art Stewart Ridges, which form the perimeter of the Indian Creek watershed.

Also included in the Mountain Treasure are the Santeetlah Bluffs, recognized as a special area of virgin forest by the Forest Service and the coves around the little known and beautiful Wright Creek Falls, an impressive 80’ drop. Much of the area is visible in sweeping panoramas from the Cherohala Skyway.

The Santeetlah Headwaters Mountain Treasure includes what is arguably the most important collection of old-growth on Nantahala National Forest outside of Joyce Kilmer in a variety of forest types including Northern Hardwoods, Boulderfield Forest, High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Acidic Cove Forest, Rich Cove Forest and what was one of the world’s finest examples of Hemlock Forest before it was devastated by the hemlock wooly adelgid.

These forests contain some of the largest specimens of a number of trees on Nantahala National Forest including an 80” poplar, a 66” red oak, a 64” sycamore, a 52” sugar maple, a 49” black cherry, and many other individuals of various species over 4 ft. in diameter at breast height. Hot spots for big trees include the Santeetlah Bluffs, all sections of Indian Creek not logged in the 1970s and 80s and the coves around the falls on Wright Creek.

A large area of old-growth Northern Hardwoods west of Huckleberry Knob remains undelineated. The human-maintained grassy balds on the summit of Huckleberry Knob are also important wildlife habitat and accessible via trail from the Cherohala Skyway.

The crystal waters of the famous Tellico River flow down from the Unicois to Tellico Plains, the “Gathering Place” for traders.

A number of rare species find a home at the Santeetlah Headwaters, including the Carolina northern flying squirel, the Indiana bat, and rock gnome lichen, all Federally Endangered. The population of northern flying squirrel is considered unique because of its isolation and the lack of red spruce in the Unicoi Mountains.

Instead of utilizing spruce, that population of northern flying squirrel depends on declining Eastern hemlock for coniferous forage and shelter. In an effort to support this imperiled population of northern flying squirrels, the U.S. Forest Service along with state and federal wildlife agencies plan to plant red spruce along the Cherohala Skyway, as well as treat stands of hemlock critical to the squirrel.

The Santeetlah Headwaters are critical from a landscape connectivity perspective as well. The area is only separated from the Snowbird and Sycamore Creek (TN) Mountain Treasures by the Cherohala Skyway and lie just across Santeetlah Creek from the southernmost proposed addition to Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. Except for the Santeetlah Bluffs, the entire area is currently in management designations that allow logging and road building. Managing the Santeetlah Headwaters for anything less than maximizing its ecological, aesthetic and recreational values is a folly and this area deserves some form of permanent protection.

Bookmark and Share