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

Unicoi Mountains, including Cantrell Top IRA

8,935 acres NCMT; 7,838 acres PWA

Recommendation: The Unicoi Mountains area should be recommended for wilderness.

Naturalness: 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, forming with Upper Bald river 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 among other ecozone types. There are old-growth sites within both the Unicoi Mountain Area and the Upper Bald River Area. Left undisturbed for a few more years, the forest will become awe-inspiring. The Forest Service has placed the Unicoi Mountain area in a large patch for future Old Growth Area.

Opportunities for Solitude: 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. Solitude along this nationally significant trail depends on wilderness management of both areas.

Opportunities for Recreation: The Benton MacKaye Trail is a national-caliber long- distance recreation trail. Just as the Upper Bald River area protects the northern slopes in Tennessee, the Unicoi Mountains area should protect the southern slope in North Carolina, safeguarding the integrity of the primitive wilderness experience for hikers along the mountain spine. The Benton MacKaye trail generally follows the state line between these two areas

Ecological and other values: This area of the mountains has historical significance. On the west of Forest Road (FSR) 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.

There are old-growth sites within both the Unicoi Mountain Area and the Upper Bald River Area. There is 227 acres of documented old growth within the Unicoi Mountain area. 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.

Three SNHAs are located within the Unicoi Mountains area: Long Ridge/Unicoi Mountains

Turner Top

Peels High Top/Cantrell Top

Manageability: The area consisting of the Upper Bald River and Unicoi Mountains should be considered one area for its roadless and wilderness characteristics. This is the case for other areas (e.g. the Bald Mountain area that stretches between Pisgah National Forest and Cherokee National Forest). The wilderness characteristics of the two combined areas are greater than the two areas considered separately.

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