Grandfather Mountain & Wilson Creek

Grandfather Mountain possesses the highest peak along the Blue Ridge escarpment and contains the headwaters of Wilson Creek, designated a National Wild & Scenic River in 2000. Iconic Grandfather Mountain and the unspoiled waters of Wilson Creek provide spectacular wilderness and educational experiences, as well as clean water, to millions of North Carolinians and visitors from afar.

International Biosphere Preserve & World Class Trout Waters

Grandfather Mountain and National Wild & Scenic Wilson Creek are ecological and cultural treasures of North Carolina. Multitudes of significant and rare habitats and species occupy this spectacularly diverse area. Grandfather Mountain is the site of an International Biosphere Preserve and Wilson Creek’s pure water provides nationally significant aquatic habitat for rare and potentially undocumented aquatic species. Both places attract visitors from all over the country and the world and can be viewed from one of the most spectacular scenic viewpoints along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct. Though largely surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, these North Carolina gems are at risk of unchecked development of approximately 12,000 acres of unprotected private land that is extremely attractive for second-home development. One such development plan was narrowly avoided in the summer of 2007 along four miles of Wilson Creek.

Habitat & Scenic Significance

Wilson Creek hosted turn-of-the century timber and textile communities prior to devastating floods in 1916 and the 1940s. The CCC then created and restored roads and trails for public use. The McRae/Morton family has owned Grandfather Mountain for over 100 years. They operate a successful tourist attraction and began formally protecting the land in the 1980’s. In 1992, it was selected by the UN as an Inter – national Biosphere Preserve.

Biological Diversity

Grandfather Mountain and the Wilson Creek watershed are incredibly rich ecologically and afford outstanding water quality attributes. The entire 23-mile stretch of Wilson Creek is a National Wild and Scenic River. The creek’s aquatic habitat and Grandfather Mountain are nationally significant natural heritage areas. The area hosts eight additional natural heritage areas; five unique habitats associated with the State Wildlife Action Plan; eight federal and over a dozen state endangered, threatened or rare species; 47 North Carolina-designated “Outstanding Resource Waters” streams; and one “High Quality Waters” river.

Economic Significance

This area attracts hundreds of thou – sands of tourists from all over the world for outdoor recreation, stunning scenery, trout fishing, whitewater sports and wilderness enjoyment. Local communities depend upon the direct and indirect revenues generated by these natural treasures and the tourists and sportsmen they attract. Recent opportunities to acquire lands along several miles of Wilson Creek for public gameland open up the possibility of a world-class trout fishery, creating more opportunities.

Since 2006, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has focused on the protection of significant lands along Wilson Creek guided by a recently completed watershed conservation plan. In 2008, Foothills Conservancy negotiated a purchase contract with the landowners of the largest privately-owned tract in the watershed – 649 acres encompassing nearly four miles of this National Wild and Scenic River – on behalf of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Funds have been secured to complete this $7 million purchase in 2009. By 2010, Foothills Conservancy will complete two conservation easements on an additional 300 private acres surrounding two miles of Wilson Creek and a major tributary. Currently, $8 million in public funding and nearly $2 million of leveraged private money could protect a connected network of nearly 1,000 acres and almost 10 miles of Wilson Creek and its tributaries.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has protected 3,770 acres at Grandfather Mountain over the past 20 years and, with The Conservation Fund, helped facilitate the purchase of Grandfather Mountain State Park in 2008. Additionally, TNC holds a conservation easement on 150 acres encompassing over a mile of Wilson Creek upstream and adjacent to Foothills Conservancy’s protection area. As an advisor to Blue Ridge Forever, TNC will continue to coordinate its conservation work throughout the Southern Blue Ridge Ecoregion with Blue Ridge Forever member organizations.

Leave Your Legacy

There are few ways that you can leave a greater legacy than through land conservation. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to preserve the magnificent landscape of Grandfather Mountain and Wilson Creek.


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Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina
PO Box 3023, Morganton, NC 28680


Blue Ridge Conservancy
P.O. Box 568, Boone, NC 28607