Hiwassee River Valley

The southwestern corner of North Carolina contains some of the most pristine headwater streams in the nation, providing critical drinking water and recreational support to areas downstream. The unique combination of majestic mountain ranges and broad, fertile valleys contained in this landscape gives rise to an incredible variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and has supported thriving human cultures for millennia. With many essential wildlife corridors and prime farmlands at risk to subdivision and development, the Hiwassee River valley along with the Snowbird and Unicoi mountains represent an outstanding yet transient conservation opportunity.

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Exceptional Natural Resources, Historic Communities, a Way of Life An Uncertain Future

From rushing mountain trout streams such as the High Quality Waters of Tuni Creek to the meandering Valley River with its unique combination of cold- and warmwater fisheries, the Hiwassee is one of North Carolina’s most ecologically diverse river basins. The Snowbird and Unicoi mountains are cloaked by woodlands ranging from dry oak and pine ridges to rich coves blossoming with wildflowers. These historic farmlands and headwater forests are being lost to residential subdivisions and ex-urban sprawl at an alarming rate, with 23,000 acres of private forest and nearly 6,000 acres of farmland lost between 1992 and 2002.

Biological Diversity

The varied landscape of south – western North Carolina provides habitat for an incredible variety of plants and animals, including many species found nowhere else in the world. The Hiwassee headwaters crayfish (Cambarus parishi), for example, is a state and federal species of concern found only in the upper Hiwassee basin. Key private tracts, as yet undeveloped, within the Little Snowbird and Hanging Dog watersheds are critical wildlife corridors between disjunct federal lands and help secure the diverse flora and fauna of this landscape.

Cultural Heritage

“Hiwassee” is derived from the Cherokee “Ayuhwasi”, meaning savannah or meadow, which was the name of a native village near the confluence of Peachtree Creek and the river, believed to have been settled at least 3,000 years ago. The John C. Campbell Folk School at Brasstown, modeled on the Danish rural folk school tradition, continues today as a monument to North Carolina’s significant and unique craft culture.

Economic Significance

A forestry and conventional farm economy is transitioning to an economy dependent upon quality of life measures such as access to clean water, stunning views, open space and a rural lifestyle. Recreation, tourism and service industries are growing as is the construction industry for retirees and seasonal residents, and many farmers are shifting to direct-market strategies to take better advantage of this new market. Preservation of rural character will be essential to securing the long-term economic vitality of the area.

Since the expansion of the organization’s service area in 2005, the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) has led in the protection of nearly 1100 acres representing over $6 million of land value conserved within the Hiwassee Snowbird-Unicoi region. Among the protected properties to date is the largest working farm in North Carolina west of Asheville. Another 2,850 acres including 23 miles of streams and nearly 13 miles of National Forest boundary is at immediate risk and targeted for protection by 2010. These lands valued at over $18 million include two municipal watersheds and an individually-held tract. The North Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and other data sources are being used to set priorities for land and habitat protection.

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 the Hiwassee valley and the surrounding Snowbird and Unicoi mountains. Each donation brings us one step closer to conserving this treasure of natural and cultural heritage for our great-grandchildren and beyond.


Mainspring Conservation Trust
PO Box 1148, Franklin, NC 28744
828-524-2711 x 204 www.mainspringconserves.org