Update: Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy completed the transfer of this 110-acre tract to the USFS on May 17, 2023.
In 2020, SAHC purchased 110 acres in Macon County to protect a headwater source of the nationally significant Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River. The property is just north of the North Carolina/Georgia border, surrounded by the Nantahala and Chattahoochee National Forests, and will be added to the Nantahala National Forest for the public to enjoy.
“Big Creek is an important tributary of the Chattooga River, a beloved river where people enjoy outdoor recreation like whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing,” says Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director. “Conserving this property permanently protects critical water resources and habitat.”
A long-time priority for protection, SAHC plans to own the Big Creek tract for several years and then transfer it to the U.S. Forest Service to become part of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest. Partner land trust Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT), which works in this geographic area, will help steward the property during SAHC’s ownership of the tract.
“HCLT is delighted to work with SAHC on the project to acquire and transfer the Big Creek tract to the U.S. Forest Service,” says Gary Wein, HCLT’s executive director. “Collaboration between these two storied land trusts brings their respective expertise and resources together in a win-win for everyone. This tract, which is both the gateway to Secret Falls and contains significant natural heritage has always been high on the priority list for the Nantahala Ranger District.”
In addition to protecting water resources, conservation of the land also protects important habitat for diverse plants and animals – particularly salamanders.
“The property is a beautiful example of forest in the Upper Chattooga River watershed with habitats ranging from granitic cliffs, oak-hickory forest full of chantrelles, and riparian areas home to trout and otters,” says Kyle Pursel, HCLT’s stewardship coordinator. “The property has a high diversity of salamanders, with at least 12 species of salamanders known from the property or lands immediately adjacent. It also has a great diversity of plants, including area endemics like Biltmores Sedge (Carex biltmoreana) and Granite Dome Goldenrod (Solidago simulans).”
“Over the decades, there have been multiple attempts to secure this property which didn’t work out,” adds Silverstein. “SAHC courageously borrows money to seize unique conservation opportunities when they are available. In order to borrow money to achieve such conservation acquisitions, we have to know beforehand how we will be able to repay the loan. We have confidence that the US Forest Service will eventually have access to Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to purchase the property from SAHC for addition to the Nantahala National Forest, And thanks to our dedicated members and generous contributions from Brad and Shelli Stanback, SAHC was finally able to protect it.”