By Nicole Hayler
The Chattooga River watershed is about 200,000 acres of one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the Southern Appalachians, that includes portions of three national forests located in western North Carolina’s Jackson and Macon Counties, northeast Georgia’s Rabun County, and upstate South Carolina’s Oconee County. Nearly 70% of the entire watershed is public land—a percentage that is unusually high for regions in the East. This cache of public land is managed by the Nantahala, Chattahoochee, and Sumter National Forests in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina, respectively. Here, the stewardship guidelines for our national forest system offer general protections from outright development such that the majority of our watershed remains in a relatively natural state. However, oversight of public land managers and activism on private land issues is essential for protecting, promoting and restoring the natural and cultural resources of the Chattooga watershed, and this is the Chattooga Conservancy’s mission.
I recently spent a day visiting some of the places in the Chattooga watershed that inspire my work at the Chattooga Conservancy to protect this amazing area. They may be places that you know as well. From Warwoman Dell’s potent and diverse forest in Rabun County, to North Carolina’s Whiteside Mountain, where the Peregrine Falcons’ seasonal return is imminent, to the pristine stretch of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga at Woodall Shoals and Seven Foot Falls on the river’s South Carolina side, spring was in the air. This was a wonderful reminder of all the reasons and opportunities for conserving our natural resources and building our community that lay ahead as this year unfolds.
But this day also reminded me of the challenges that confront our watershed: the hundreds of gallons of raw sewage that pour into Stekoa Creek each year, fouling the waters of the Chattooga River downstream; the threat of unnecessary, fiscally irresponsible and ecologically devastating road proposals like Interstate 3, which could plow right through the watershed; and, ill-conceived development schemes for private lands such as one in Cashiers, North Carolina, that plans to spray their sewage onto steep slopes at the Chattooga River’s headwaters.
Yet take heart: it’s people like you—who care about the woods and streams in our Chattooga watershed—that will conserve its extraordinary values. It is people like you who can champion clean water, clean air, and beautiful places to find respite and renewal in our busy lives. So, speak up and be counted if we are to preserve the clean water, amazing vistas, forest diversity, cultural heritage, recreational opportunities, and solitude that make the Chattooga watershed a special place for all who visit, work, play, and live here. Time is short.