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

Unicoi Mountains

Unicoi Mountains, Adjacent to Upper Bald River, TN Wilderness Study Area

Approximate Size: 8,931 acres

Old Growth Acreage: 227 acres

Location: Cherokee County, North Carolina, 12 miles northwest of Murphy, on the Tennessee border, Nantahala National Forest, Tusquitee Ranger District

USGS Topographic Maps: McDaniel Bald, Unaka

A high ridge marks the North Carolina–Tennessee state line west from Beaverdam Bald to the terminus of Forest Road 50 at Sandy Gap. Sandy Gap is also the trailhead of the Kirkland Creek Trail which goes through the adjacent Upper Bald River Area in Tennessee. The Benton MacKaye Trail, considered an Appalachian Trail alternate trail, follows the state line dividing the Unicoi Mountain Area from the Upper Bald River Wilderness Study Area.

The Unicoi Mountain area is contiguous to the Upper Bald River Wilderness Study Area in adjacent Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and is recommended for wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest Management Plan. The Unicoi Mountains area would be a sensible, natural addition for wilderness study, forming a large area in both states of approximately 18,000 acres.

On both sides of the state line the forest has recovered from past logging, and now supports a recovering northern hardwood forest. There are two old-growth candidate sites on the Tennessee side of the area. Left undisturbed for a few more years, the growth will become awe-inspiring. The Forest Service has placed the Unicoi Mountain area in a large patch of Old Growth Recovery Area.

This original segment of the Unicoi Turnpike was built on an ancient Cherokee trading path. photo by Lamar Marshall

This area of the mountains has historical significance. On the west of Forest Road (FS) 50 the ridge continues to Cantrell Top. Unicoi Gap at the lower end of Cantrell Top is a gap on the old trading trail between the Cherokee town of Tellico and Cowee Town of the Middle Cherokee. This Unicoi Trail crossed from the Hiwassee River drainage into the Tellico River drainage at Unicoi Gap.

The Joe Brown Highway today roughly follows the route of the trading route, from Murphy through Unicoi Gap to Tellico Plains. This old trail was recently designated a section of the “Trail of Tears” by Congress as one of the routes by which the Cherokee were removed from the Southern Appalachians and relocated to Oklahoma. Legend holds that a Cherokee chief is buried in the area.

The Upper Bald River roadless area (TN) is recommended for wilderness study by the Cherokee National Forest in their last forest plan. The Unicoi Mountains (NC) are contiguous to this area and would be a sensible, natural addition for wilderness study. The Benton Macaye trail generally follows the state line between these two areas.

 

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