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Panther Creek

Panther Creek

Approximate size: 13,036 acres
Old-growth known: 0 acres

North of Toccoa, Georgia, where the mountains meet the Piedmont, Panther Creek and its tributaries have carved rugged gorges. Among the largest streams in the Mountain Treasures, Panther Creek plunges over an impressive cascade and into a large swimming hole that makes the Panther Creek Trail one of the most popular hiking trails on the entire Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Below the falls, a lesser used portion of the trail continues down the gorge, and offers excellent opportunities for solitude and wildflower viewing. Both Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia by Hugh O. and Carol Nourse and Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes by Timothy P. Spira profile the trail.

As Panther Creek exits its gorge, the stream turns abruptly to follow the Brevard Fault, as does its tributary Davidson Creek. Bedrock along the fault includes not only crystalline rocks, typical of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge, but also carbonate rocks. Soils with relatively high pH, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients foster uniquely lush coves along lower Panther Creek. Those coves support record height trees for Georgia, such as a 132-foot-tall black walnut, and an exceptional concentration of rare wildflowers. South of Panther Creek, many contrasting communities and rare species pack into a small area. Dry ridges supporting Table Mountain pine, the rarest pine in Georgia, sit above moist ravines with the lowest-elevation populations of hemlock, white pine, and rosebay rhododendron in Georgia. Soils with unusually high concentrations of iron and magnesium allow another whole suite of species to thrive here. Seeps, rock outcrops, and the adjacent Tugaloo River add still more species.

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests includes the only extensive public lands along the Brevard Fault in Georgia, and Panther Creek includes the least fragmented part of the national forest. Growing in a relatively warm climate, the low elevation populations of primarily mountain species may be important for adapting to climate change. This area includes three federally endangered or threatened species, a multitude of state rare species, and great diversity of many groups, such as the six species of trillium and 16 species of orchids. An entire new salamander genus was discovered here in 2008, the first new amphibian genus described in the United States in nearly 50 years.

Help us protect this 16,000-acre oasis of waterfalls, old-growth, rare species, panoramic views, and world-class trails.

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