Monday, October 8, 2018

Introducing Headwaters State Forest!

Last month, 6,730 acres of NC mountain forests along the South Carolina border were officially opened to the public as Headwaters State Forest. A network of state parks, heritage preserves and wilderness areas protect the Greenville watershed and Blue Wall natural areas, with the French Broad River headwaters located just to the north; these are now permanently protected from development, as the new State Forest connects Watson Cooper State Heritage Preserve with the Jocassee Gorges, essentially connecting Caesars Head State Park to Table Rock State Park.

East Fork Falls, Headwaters State Forest

Headwaters is a decade in the making, with The Conservation Fund beginning negotiations in 2009. Public funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund totaled $25.2 million, with funding for the acquisitions coming from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the former N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program. Ironically, Congress just let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire, a shameless attack on America’s parks and public lands with Headwaters a prime example of places that could be lost forever to development if the public lands funding program isn't renewed. The conservation fund is a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties to acquire critical lands to protect some of America’s most beautiful natural resources – and it expired September 30th. A troubling trend of disregard towards our last wild places has luckily so far not been felt in our region of the Carolinas, although recent recipients of the Fund such as Headwaters and the new Jones Gap addition suggest conservation efforts in the Upstate and western NC will be hindered if the Fund is not renewed in the coming months.

The previous addition to the NC Forest Service managed lands was DuPont State Recreational Forest, which is located just miles north of Headwaters, as the crow flies. DuPont is a favorite area for cyclists, hikers and horseback riders, with six main access areas to over 80 miles of trail at just over an hour from Greenville. Access to the new Headwaters State Forest is rather remote comparatively, with only a handful of roads cutting through the mountainous terrain. One of the most-easily accessible spots from South Carolina is Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in the state. Once the new viewing tower is completed, visitors will be able to look out over the new State Forest and the Pisgah Mountains from an elevation of 3,553 feet.

View from Sassafras Mountain

The Sassafras Mountain summit end is accessed by Continental Divide Road and Highway 178. Nine miles of the Caesars Head Trail, a spur of the Foothills Trail, traverse the southern border of the State Forest from Sassafras Mountain to Watson-Cooper, while the north portions of the State Forest are reached from Highway 276. Most of the road access on this side is from East Fork Road or smaller roads off of it, including the parcel that encompasses Jordan, Crawford and Pickens Mountains and is split by the East Fork of the French Broad River.

East Fork Falls, Transylvania County NC

Ranging from 2,000 to 3,600 feet in elevation, Headwaters is full of streams, creeks and waterfalls; of the at least 25 waterfalls, three are named – Gravely Mill, East Fork Falls and Reese Place Falls. One of the main Headwaters State Forest access points is the White Oak Bridge Access off Glady Fork Road, from where visitors can hike to the 40ft Gravely Mill Falls. Another pull-off (coordinates: 35.113717, -82.747781), this one off E. Fork Rd., allows for access to East Fork Falls, an 18-ft cascade. There are already 25 miles of old roads and trails open to foot traffic, including 9 miles of the Foothills Trail. Mountain bikes, horseback riders and camping are not allowed.

Foothills Trail spur to Caesars Head, Sassafras trailhead

Headwaters is home to threatened and endangered species, including Southern Appalachian bog habitat, the state-listed threatened green salamander and the federally endangered rock gnome lichen. Black bear, turkey and white-tailed deer are common, and hunting is allowed – so please remember your safety orange when hiking in the fall.

“The mission of Headwaters State Forest is to manage the lands to provide high quality water, natural resources, forest products, dispersed recreation opportunities, and education.” For more information on Headwaters State Forest, visit the North Carolina Forest Service website.

Map courtesy of the Conservation Fund


  1. Very interesting... As much as we love Dupont --and what has been done to that park, I'll keep my eyes and ears open when reading about and learning about Headwaters..... I'm so glad that some states are doing what they can to protect some of our beautiful forests --from development.... AWESOME.

    Stay dry --since it appears as if another storm is headed toward the Carolinas.... Gads!



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