Plan For Headwaters State Forest Moves Forward


May 18, 2017

Park Baker

NC Forest Service Ranger Michael Cheek points out peaks and landmarks across the county to TNRC member Peter Chaveas and Don Surrette. This overlook is located on the southern end of the forest, looking southwest.

The joke on last week's walking tour of the soon-to-be Headwaters State Forest was that the county will soon be fenced in by state or federal land. With just a few more parcels to acquire along the South Carolina state line, that joke is close to being true.

Last week, the Transylvania Natural Resources Council was led on a walking tour of the forest by ranger Michael Cheek. Up until now the land has been the private property of former Congressman Charles Taylor.

Taylor agreed to sell about 8,000 acres of land to the state, and since 2012 the NC Forest Service has been jumping through the hoops to make the land acquisition happen. Partnerships with organizations like the Carolina Mountain Land Conser-vancy have made the $32 million land transfer possible.

The land is to be managed more like a working forest than an attraction like DuPont, according to Cheek. Cheek is the man in charge on the ground at Headwaters. During the fire season last fall he and other firefighters spent countless hours doing everything they could to keep the Table Rock fire from jumping into North Carolina. The fire jumped the line that Cheek and his crew kept clear, but only a few acres were burned. The contrast of the burned South Carolina side and spring's new growth on the North Carolina side of the ridge on the southern edge of Headwaters is eye catching to say the least.

Cheek thinks the forest will be open to the public in the next couple of years, but there is more land to acquire in the transfer, and that process is slow. There has to be a management plan in place to receive some of the grants used, like the Forest Legacy grant, a grant provided by the federal government intended to conserve environmentally important areas threatened to development through conservation easements. Around 5,700 acres have been purchased already, with an additional 1,300 or so left to acquire.

Cheek said the timeline could be pushed back if there happened to be another bad fire season and he is called off of his regular duties.

"This is all to help protect the East Fork headwaters of the French Broad River," said Cheek.

Just across the ridge over the state line from an overlook where Cheek pointed out landmarks in the county lies the Greenville Watershed. Up until now, the Headwaters Hunt club had managed the forest, which was the last of the large hunt clubs in the county. The folks who hunted Taylor's land for years maintained food plots and fifty miles of roads, they also kept the gates in working order and ran out trespassers. Taylor had four or five trailers around the forest, which he called his ranger stations. People lived in the trailers in exchange for helping him on his property.

The plan is still to manage the lands like game lands, working on preserving and enhancing the existing wildlife and their habitats like some of the rare mountain bogs and rocky cliffs in the forest. Ten or twelve bogs have been identified on the forest property. Cheek said he has been working closely with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and hopes to have the forest ready for the licensed public hunting and fishing in a few years. Plans to thin plantations of white pine throughout the forest are in the pipeline, with the intent to return the forest to its natural state before it was logged. Cheek said most of the trees on the property were around 40 years old.

The Hemlock Restoration Initiative has treated four sites of adelgid-infested hemlocks along the creeks in Headwaters forest, as well as in DuPont. Healthy hemlocks will help keep the trout streams cool in the summer. Cheek said that the wildlife commission has found the southern strain of the brook trout in the forest's classified trout streams, as well as brown and rainbow trout.

Cheek said that forest will have a much different feel to it than DuPont, and while there are waterfalls and other points of interest throughout the forest, management is not going to try and corral people into one area.

"We are not going to have parking lots and we're not going to try and funnel people into certain areas. The primary focus is on managing the property and the wildlife, giving people the hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities. It will be more of a backcountry experience," he said.

Park Baker

David Whitmire, Don Surrette and Steve Pagano, Gorges State Park supervisor, watch as Michael Cheek indicates which parcels of land the state has left to purchase from Charles Taylor.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 10/01/2019 15:13