Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) share many of the same characteristics of designated Wilderness Areas but have not yet received full designation by the US Congress. There are five WSAs protected by the US Forest Service in North Carolina. In Nantahala National Forest we have Overflow Creek and Snowbird, and in Pisgah National Forest; Harper Creek, Lost Cove and Craggy Mountain totaling 25,816 acres. Most were set aside by the NC Wilderness Act of 1984 and have since been recommended for wilderness designation, however some have been threatened with declassification.
Many Wilderness Study Areas were first identified by the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) of 1972 and the RARE II report of 1979, which was more thorough. Although restrictions for usage are less stringent, WSAs are intended to receive the same protection from development as Wilderness Areas until such time as Congress decides to take action.
These areas could potentially be impacted through the comprehensive revision to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests' Land Management Plan which is currently underway. Please see these documents which were released earlier this week for more information about the revision plan: Scoping Letter from the US Department of Agriculture and An Explanation of the Need to Change the Plan.
Map credits throughout this page: Hugh Irwin, The Wilderness Society
In the Nantahala National Forest...
Overflow Creek Wilderness Study Area
The Overflow Creek study area is located in Macon County on the NC-GA state line and protects 3,200 acres in North Carolina. The creek which gives the area its name is one of the main tributaries of the West Fork of the Chattooga River. The study area, which adjoins the Three Forks area in GA, provides important watershed protection for the Chattooga River, one of five Wild and Scenic Rivers in North Carolina. The Bartram Trail crosses the area from south to north. Other outstanding features include Osage Mountain, Glen Falls and numerous areas of old-growth forest.
Snowbird Wilderness Study Area
The Snowbird WSA contains 8,490 acres in Graham County, NC. The Forest Service has recommended Snowbird Creek for the National Wild and Scenic River program. Though the creek has not yet received that designation, it is well known as a trout stream. The main trail, which runs along the creek, is located in an old railroad bed used during logging operations in the 1940s. Notable waterfalls in Snowbird WSA include Sassafras, Upper, Middle, High and Big Falls. The forests feature large hemlocks and American chestnut trees. Habitat here supports a number of threatened and endangered species including the Carolina northern flying squirrel and Indiana bat.
In the Pisgah National Forest...
Harper Creek and Lost Cove Wilderness Study Areas
The Harper Creek and Lost Cove Wilderness Study Areas occupy adjacent areas in Avery, Burke and Caldwell Counties. These areas protect 7,138 acres and 5,708 acres respectively. A part of the Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River management area is located within the Harper Creek WSA. The NC Mountains-to-the-Sea-Trail crosses through these WSAs and some of the best waterfall hikes in the state are located here. Notable falls include the North and South Harper Creek Falls. Popular sites in Lost Cove include the Big Lost Cove Cliffs, a regular nesting site for Peregrine falcons.
Craggy Mountain Wilderness Study Area
The Craggy Mountain Wilderness Study Area was created in 1975. The NC Wilderness Act of 1984 added an extension of 1,280 acres, bringing the total to 2,380 acres. The WSA is located in Buncombe County adjacent to the Asheville Watershed. Elevations range from 3,000 to 6,000 feet. There are remains of old-growth forests, including virgin stands of hemlock, and numerous rare plant species are found here. The area is popular for trout fishing and hiking. Outstanding features include Carter and Douglas Falls. The Mountains-to-the-Sea Trails runs near the southern boundary and within the WSA for approximately one mile. The Forest Service recommended the WSA for designations as a Wilderness Area in 1987, but the measure failed to pass the Senate.