January 19, 2017
In 2016 a fire was intentionally set along the Tallulah River in Georgia. The area was in the midst of an unprecedented draught, without rain for months, the landscape tinder. The resulting fire consumed over 20,000 acres, much if it within the Wilderness.
I was invited last Thursday by the Southern Appalachians Regional Office of The Wilderness Society (TWS) to tour the damage. TWS is the leading group dedicated to conserving and protecting the nations shared wildlands. Years ago I met Jill and Brent with TWS and have always respected their dedication, but it was an added pleasure to meet Michelle, Pearl, Hugh and Brent’s nephew, Zach. Joined by an ecologist with the Georgia Forest Watch, Jess, we started hiking from the southern trailhead, just outside of Tate City, Georgia. I really enjoyed the drive through this town. The small green sign on the road proudly states: “Tate City: Population 32 +-.” Small family farms and large vacation homes dot the landscape before the wilderness.
Jess pointed out that the fire damage we saw on the drive in was likely back burn, intentionally set by the firefighters to protect the homes in the area.
The Beech Creek Trail (or loop) circles Big Scaly Mountain northeast of Tate City, encompassing both Georgia and North Carolina. Between Standing Indian (off the A.T.) and Scaly is the Tallulah River. 2 miles into the hike and after seeing the beginnings of the fire damage, Jess led us via a manway to Chimney Rock, an impressive rock formation next to Scaly.
Overcoming my fear of falling for being clumsy, I’m glad that I headed up the face, for we were greeted with an expansive view of Standing Indian and Deep Gap. After lunch we continued to hike to Case Knife Gap, where we encountered the most expansive damage.
Both Jess and Brent indicated that the lasting legacy of this fire won’t be from the burned trees, but from the now exposed landscape, sans undergrowth. The ground is charred in spots, with loose soil dotting the sloped terrain; a heavy rain would certainly bring erosion.
The bushwhack down the ridge was fun, albeit steep. I always enjoy getting off the trails, in a more spiritual communion with nature.
Total mileage is 7.49 miles.