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Southern Nantahala Wilderness Extensions

Southern Nantahala Wilderness Extensions

Approximate size (acres): GA 7,894; NC 14,811
Old-growth known (acres): GA 558; NC 1,523

Georgia shares the 23,365-acre Southern Nantahala Wilderness with North Carolina almost evenly. The southern side of the Wilderness area contains significant high elevation areas like Dicks Knob (over 4,600 feet elevation, Georgia’s third highest peak) and Hightower Bald (4,588 feet, fourth highest). One of the most remote and least explored areas in north Georgia, the ridge between Hightower Bald and Eagle Mountain does not drop below 3,600 feet over its five-mile-long arc. Access to much of the Georgia side is poor except along the Appalachian Trail.

Indeed, some of these extensions receive much more visitation. One of the most impressive botanical displays in north Georgia, a cove filled with seemingly endless ranks of large flowered trilliums, draws clubs into the Grassy Ridge extension along unmaintained trails.. The western extension lures other outdoor groups with its 180-degree vista encompassing Brasstown Bald and parts of Chatuge Lake. The western extension and Eagle Mountain specifically also provide scenery from Chatuge Lake. Less frequently visited areas include a series of potentially ancient rock piles of unknown origin, and a handful of small waterfalls. The streams draining these extensions flow into three river systems: the Hiawassee, the Little Tennessee, and the Tallulah.

Despite the relatively easy access, these extensions contain some of the most pristine forests in the area. Both the Tate Branch extension on the south side and the Eagle Mountain extension have individual old-growth oak stands of over 100 acres. In fact, these stands may be larger than the remaining old-growth in the current wilderness area. The Eagle Mountain old-growth is associated with some of the best examples of high elevation rock outcrop communities in Georgia. These outcrops are little disturbed, extensive, and harbor several rare species, including several species not known from the Wilderness. In 2016, a wildflower new to the Chattahoochee National Forest, Miami mist, was found in this area.

Rare species and communities are not restricted to the rock outcrops. One of the smaller southern extensions contains the southernmost and only Georgia population of sweetfern. Eagle Mountain supports an anomalous forest with shagbark hickory (uncommon in the Blue Ridge), hoptree (rare in the Blue Ridge) and abundant jewel-weed. The extensions also contain exceptionally productive forests. Black cherry reaches 130 feet tall in the Tate Branch and Grassy Ridge extensions and tulip poplar even taller. The Eagle Mountain extension has areas of similarly rich soils, but the most productive forests were clear-cut from the 1970s to 1990s.

Several of these extensions are Inventoried Roadless in the current plan (listed as Ben Gap, Patterson Gap, Shoal Branch, and Tate Branch). Forest Service Road 829 in the Eagle Mountain extension has been closed for several years, so that roadless area has expanded.

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

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