Saving a mountain for our children and grandchildren
By Philip Moore
Overlooking the Shooting Creek valley in Clay County, the Chunky Gal Mountains provide a year-round source of beauty for motorists, hikers, hunters, and fishermen. US 64, snaking through Glade Gap, is designated by the Department of Transportation as part of the Waterfall Scenic Byway, while the Chunky Gal Trail follows the ridgeline to provide foot travelers a connection between the Rim Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
With the help of a local landowner and the support of the local US Forest Service District Office, the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) is helping to ensure that this breathtaking landscape, which is entirely surrounded by National Forest land, is maintained. LTLT recently purchased a 53-acre tract of private ridgetop land from Robert S. (Sid) and Barbara Penland of Hayesville, with the goal of seeing it permanently conserved.
The property, visible from numerous locations on US 64 and Shooting Creek, has high conservation value – which this purchase will permanently protect. The tract is within 1,000 feet of the Riley Knob Natural Heritage Area. The bulk of the land lies within the watershed of Muskrat Branch, considered Wild Trout waters by the Wildlife Resources Commission. Rich soils extend all the way to the top of the mountain, resulting in an atypical ridgeline forest with buckeye trees, an open understory, and a lush layer of wildflowers including mayapple, large-flowered trillium, wood lily, and many other species. Two large rock outcrops occur, one at the northwest corner and another to the southeast, with the Chunky Gal Trail meandering between them, forming over half a mile of the parcel boundary and allowing hikers scenic views of the valley.
Through the continued generosity of its donors, LTLT maintains a revolving fund that allows it to consider unique conservation opportunities, such as Chunky Gal, when they arise. With both the Penland’s and the Forest Service’s desire to see the tract ultimately placed in the National Forest System, LTLT chose to “bridge” the funding between the private landowner and the Forest Service and purchased the property in August, 2009. LTLT plans to convey the property to the Forest Service when the agency has acquisition funds available.