Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Citico Creek Wilderness
The Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness areas share a common boundary along the Unicoi Mountains. Citico Creek Wilderness lies entirely within the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock is also part of the Cherokee National Forest, but lies chiefly within the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock was first designated a wilderness by the 1975 Wilderness Act. The original 14,033 acres were increased to the present 17,013 acres by the 1984 North Carolina Wilderness Act.
The Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness is made up mainly of the Little Santeetlah and Slickrock Creek watersheds, which are joined by a common ridgeline at their headwaters. These basins are extremely steep and rugged, with elevations ranging from a low of 1,086 feet at the mouth of Slickrock Creek to over 5,300 feet on Stratton Bald. Rock outcrops are common, and numerous drainages and cascading streams dissect the terrain. A dense hardwood forest, some of which is virgin, blankets these slopes. The forest is broken only by occasional grass or heath bards along the high ridges. Black bear and wild boar are common to these woods.
Citico Creek was designated a wilderness by the 1984 Tennessee Wilderness Act. It contains 15,891 acres. The wilderness is made up mainly of the Citico Creek watershed. The area is dominated by a long, high ridge on the eastern boundary and three, steeply sloped ridges leading west from that main ridge. The terrain is rugged and steep, with elevations ranging from 1,400 to 5,120 feet. Sheer bluffs are common, and steep stream gradients create countless waterfalls and cascades. Some drops range up to 80 feet. A continuous cover of mixed hardwoods and pines blanket the slopes with an understory dominated by rhododendron and mountain laurel. Several areas of virgin forest are found within the wilderness. Black bears and wild boars roam the forest.
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek have long been recognized for their primitive qualities. They were first considered for wilderness by the Forest Service in the 1930's, as part of a broader proposal called the Citico-Cheoah Primitive Area.
The Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness was primeval forest until the early 1900's. Originally part of the great Cherokee Indian Nation, it was explored by Lt. Henry Timberlake in the 1750's, ceded to the United States in 1835, then settled by a handful of families in the mid 1800's. In 1915, Babcock Lumber Company purchased Slickrock and began logging the drainage. The company built a railroad along Slickrock Creek, extending it farther up the creek and its tributaries as the logging progressed. In 1922, with about a third of the area still unlogged, the company was forced to halt operations because the Caldenwood Dam being constructed on the Little Tennessee River was to flood the lower portion of the railroad. Steel rails and equipment were removed, but traces of the old logging operation still remain. Portions of trails in the Slickrock drainage follow the old railroad beds.
The Forest Service purchased the Slickrock Creek watershed in 1936. Overcutting, poor logging practices and uncontrolled fires had left the area in a deteriorated condition. Early and subsequent management consisted mainly of fire protection and custodial care. Time, protective management, and a new forest are slowly erasing the old logging and fire scars and restoring the area to a wilderness appearance.
The Little Santeetlah Creek watershed had many owners, including timber interests, but was never logged. The only settlement was one small homestead-the old Denton place, located along the Stratton Bald Trail. When the drainage was purchased by the Forest Service in 1936, it was one of the few remaining tracts of virgin forest in the East. Public interest in preserving this as virgin forest led to its dedication as the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest on July 30, 1936.Even though the steep, rugged terrain of Citico Creek has always limited human endeavor, the forest has been visited by people seeking its plentiful game, useful minerals and other resources for over 10,000 years. The first were the large Indian populations, which were located on the Little Tennessee River, especially around the mouth of Citico Creek.
Patterns of use changed little in upper Citico after European settlement. The land was still controlled by inhabitants of the Little Tennessee Valley, owned by wealthy plantation families as a mineral investment, and hunted in by all.
A few of the level areas were cleared during the 1800's. Following the Civil War, the land went to northern investors. Citico was owned during the late 19th century by George Peabody Wetmore, a wealthy U.S. Senator from Rhode Island.
Babcock Land and Timber Company bought the land and began logging about 1922. Logs were removed on tramways cut into the steep mountain slopes and streambeds. Many of these tramways are still visible. In 1925, a disastrous wildfire, made worse by extremely dry weather and fed by logging slash, burned over half of the forest. The fire killed two people and destroyed many facilities needed for timber harvesting. Replacement costs forced loggers to discontinue operations in the upper elevations, but logging continued on Doublecamp Branch until 1929. This left a few inaccessible small stands of virgin timber.
Following the logging era, several families lived along the creeks and farmed the clearings created by the logging operations. The higher areas were used for summer pastures.
The Forest Service acquired the land in 1935. Management direction since then has been to let the natural processes heal the land.
Evidence of the early Indians and settlers may be found in the wilderness. These archeological and historic artifacts and sites hold clues to America's past. If they are disturbed, a part of our heritage will be lost forever. Such sites and artifacts on public land are protected by Federal law. If you discover such remains, please leave them undisturbed. Report your discoveries to the district ranger office in Robbinsville, NC, or Tellico Plains, TN.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
The Little Santeetlah Creek drainage within the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness is dedicated as a living monument to the memory of Joyce Kilmer. He was a teacher, journalist soldier, and poet. However, it is as a poet that he is chiefly remembered. His love of the common and beautiful things, especially in nature, found a simple and delicate expression in verse. His most famous poem is"Trees." A simple bronze plaque in the heart of the forest tells his story.
Like the Wilderness, the 3,800 acres of the Memorial Forest is maintained in its primitive and natural state -a place of inspiration and a treasure of native flora and fauna. It is an impressive remnant of the vast virgin wilderness that once covered this nation. There are huge trees, many of which are hundreds of years old. Some of them are 20 feet around the base and more than 100 feet high. They include yellow-poplar, hemlock, sycamore, basswood, oak and many others. In addition to the trees, there is an outstanding variety of shrubs, vines, ferns, mosses, and herbaceous plants.
The Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail provides a 1- or 2-mile loop for viewing the large trees and the memorial plaque. This trail is for day-use only and does not connect to any other trails within the wilderness. No overnight camping is permitted in the Joyce Kilmer Picnic Area and trailhead.
Also on GORP
Rainbows in the Trees - Autumn colors in the Smoky Mountains. Essay by Bob Marshall
For more information contact: Nantahala National Forest
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication