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

Snowbird Creek

Snowbird Creek, Lower Snowbird (NC), Sycamore Creek (TN)

Approximate Size: 8,969 acres

Roadless Acreage: 8,504 acres

Location: Graham County, North Carolina, 10 miles southwest of Robbinsville, Nantahala National Forest, Cheoah Ranger District

USGS Topographic Maps: Big Junction, McDaniel Bald, Santeetlah Creek, Marble

Most of the Snowbird area is a designated a Wilderness Study Area. The only reason it was not recommended for Wilderness in 1987 was political, with a strong local opposition to Wilderness at that time.

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.

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.

The Trading Path from the Valley Towns to the Overhill Towns connected Tellico Plains to Hanging Dog and Valley River.

A main trail runs up Snowbird Creek using the old logging railroad bed. It requires multiple wet crossings and after sev-eral days of rain or even a single heavy summer downpour the crossings can be impassible. A branch railroad bed trail runs up Sassafras Branch passing the high Sassafras Falls. Several trails climb out of the valley, but hikers should inquire at the district ranger station about recent maintenance. Cherohala Skyway traverses the ridge at the head of the watershed.

Lower Snowbird Creek adjoins the wilderness study area to the east. This 2,710-acre area did not make the final list for inclusion among Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Nantahala National Forest but early logging operations may have missed some steep, upland slopes southeast of the Wilson Cabin area which may yet harbor some old-growth sites.

Sycamore Creek roadless area adjoins Snowbird Creek on the Tennessee side of the divide to the west. Though it is a natural continuation of Snowbird, sharing the same wild and natural values, it enjoys no particular protection. It should be considered part of the whole and protected as such.

The Snowbird Mountain Treasure 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.

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