Trout Species of the South

The Jewels in Southern Appalachia's Streams
By Harry Middleton
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Southern Appalachia covers millions of acres from upland Georgia to the Virginia high country. The burly, vast national forests, dark and deep, that cover so much of these rugged highlands account for much of the region's down-and-out beauty and rich biological diversity. Although these great woods are called national forests, in the recent past rarely have they been managed with only the public good and the public interest in mind. Rather they have been managed for their resources, as though they were mere holding areas for a wealth of lumber and minerals and wild game. Despite the immensity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the southern highlands, as of 1988 the whole region had but 300,000 acres of designated protected and preserved wilderness area, barely nine percent of the region's remaining wild lands. Recent plans drawn up by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service call for only an additional 30,000 acres of wilderness lands for the entire range of the southern highlands, even though use of this mountain country is up over the last decade by more than 400 percent. And while fewer wilderness tracts are being set aside in the southern mountains, more and more of their forests are being tagged for road construction and logging. By 2030 another 3,000 miles of roads will be cut through the high country as logging in the great southern national forests increases by 350 percent.

For too long our national forests have been managed resources rather than habitats and environments that we have committed to manage wisely, intelligently. We have tried and too often failed to manage and control the nation's remnant wild places as tidy units, thinking we can somehow separate forest from the mountains it covers, streams from the valleys they flow through. Isolating wild habitats severely often means the end of diversity, a loss of richness and bounty.

What we need is a new awareness of the integrity of the natural world and its biological diversity, an understanding of the interdependence and interconnectedness of life, of all things. The distance between mountain boulder and the seashore's grain of sand is but a fleck of time. There is an urgent need for the sensible protection and management of wildness as well as wilderness, all manner of diverse habitats taken as a whole rather than isolated bits of nature that we fence off as though they are murals in some stunning gallery of art, places we make into solemn and solitary symbols of the earth's wild past. Even the wildest lands, if so managed, would soon enough lose whatever is unique and special about them, and their great diversity of life would quickly wither and crumble toward extinction. There needs to be a wiser and more intelligent approach toward managing public lands, an approach that favors the land more than it favors we who do the managing.

Of course, it could be said that all of this is only selfishness on my part. This is what I'm trying to say about the southern highlands, about such places as the Chattahoochee, Cherokee, Pisgah, and the Nantahala national forests: More. More wilderness. More wildness. Fewer roads, fewer logs. More acreage for the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and the Sampson Mountain Wilderness, the Kilmer Memorial Forest, and the Slickrock Wilderness, more wilderness everywhere, in the park and in the national forests. More wilderness and less of everything else we can do so easily and comfortably without. It's not yet a matter of life and death, I suppose, except for the forests and the mountains, the streams and the trout, all the creatures whose lives depend on the mountains, including nervous trout anglers like me who find solace in the high country, a sense of place, a land that defines not only where they are but who they are.

Much is at stake in these mountains, a whirlwind of life so rich that it makes Appalachia one of the earth's most important remaining international biosphere reserves. Life here is not only more intense and bountiful than we know, it is more intricate and profound and fecund than we can perhaps imagine. So much is at stake, and all hanging on in these mountains that embrace at least six different environments from shadowy hardwood coves to the hard, cold, windy reaches of the high Canadian spruce forests above 5,000 feet.

There are 70 species of fish in the hundreds of miles of cold-water creeks and streams that cascade through the southern highlands, through the park's nearly 800 square miles. Down among the lattice of shadow and light that flickers across the face of the creeks grow the lush fern falls—tangles of maidenhair, cinnamon, the yellow-throated New York fern, the elegant Christmas fern, and the shy rattlesnake fern, and on the trunks and limbs of trees bold colonies of resurrection fern.

A man I know in Robbinsville calls resurrection fern revival fern. He says, "It don't never die all the way and then rise up again, it just loses a little faith when the cold weather comes. A little warm sunshine revives it again right quick. It's like a wayward soul that's been revived." Revival fern. I like that.

Come spring I see plenty of revival going on up along Hazel Creek and Forney Creek and Snowbird Creek, and over on Abrams Creek and Twenty Mile Creek, and so many others. As the trout rise so, it seems, do little rushes of fire pinks, and pungent alumroot, stately Solomon's seal, and the shy jack-in-the-pulpit, and tiny bluets among the stones at higher altitudes, blooming out of dark cracks of black and gray rocks, looking like captured shards of summer sky.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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