Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge, so named because its peaks and ridges often appear wrapped in a soft blue haze, consists of a nearly unbroken chain of mountains stretching from Virginia and North Carolina and extending nearly 100 miles into Georgia. It makes up the southernmost part of the Appalachian mountain chain, a vast complex of ranges that extends from north Georgia through New England.
Northwest Georgia consists of several smaller ranges—the Cohuttas, the Unakas, and the Cumberland Plateau. They are separated from the Blue Ridge by geologic formations known as the Hightower-Jasper Ridges and the McCaysville Basin in north central Georgia, along a boundary roughly marked by Georgia Highway 5. The Blue Ridge's southern boundary is along the Brevard Fault, at an elevation of 1,700 feet, where the Piedmont province begins. The Blue Ridge occupies all or portions of eleven counties in Georgia: Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Habersham, Lumpkin, Pickens, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, and White.
Natural Resources and Recreational Opportunities
Most of the Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Within its bounds are Georgia's highest peaks. The highest, Brasstown Bald (4,784 feet), is partly in Towns County and partly in Union County. Instead of rising to a distinctive peak, Brasstown Bald is unusual in that it is a barely discernible rise in Wolfpen Ridge, which extends for miles to the north and south. Other tall peaks include Rabun Bald (4,694 feet) in Rabun County and Tray Mountain (4,430 feet) in Towns and White counties. The southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail is on Springer Mountain (3,782 feet) in Gilmer County; Blood Mountain (4,461 feet) in Union County is the highest peak on Georgia's portion of the trail.
Some of Georgia's most-visited state parks are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi, and Vogel. The mountains also are home to most of Georgia's pristine wilderness areas, including Blood Mountain, Brasstown Bald, Ellicott Rock, Mark Trail, Raven Cliff, and Tray Mountain.
Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains are part of a longer geologic system that forms an almost unbroken wall running down the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge province from Virginia. Rarely more than a few miles wide in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the Blue Ridge mountain range turns to the west and widens up to sixty miles in some places within Georgia.
Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains enjoy one of the world's most botanically rich mixtures of temperate climate plants, with northern U.S. species mixing with their southern kin. Biologists contend that the Blue Ridge mountain range and its parent chain, the southern Appalachians, have the greatest mixture of temperate climate plants in the world, except for eastern temperate Asia, located at about the same latitude. Forests account for nearly 90 percent of the land cover in the Blue Ridge, a higher percentage than in any other region of the state. Agriculture and other land uses are limited primarily to the flat floodplains of creeks and rivers.
Examples of forest types found in the Blue Ridge include broadleaf deciduous cove forests on moist, cool north-facing slopes; stunted oak forests of ridges; and oak-hickory forests that comprise the bulk of the Appalachian slope forests. Shrub, grass, and heath balds, and hemlock and mixed oak-pine forests also are significant.
This richness in flora and fauna is presumed to be the result of several factors, including rainfall, climate, and soil types. The common crystalline rock types include gneiss, quartzite, and schist, covered by well-drained, acidic, brownish, loamy soils. Many areas average more than 60 inches of rainfall a year; higher elevations may get as much as 80 inches. Temperatures in mountain valleys average six to eight degrees cooler than the nearby Piedmont in the summer months. At higher elevations the difference can be ten to twelve degrees.
The Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto was the first European to travel into the Blue Ridge Mountains, probably visiting the Nacoochee Valley and a site near Carters Lake. Naturalist William Bartram was introduced to the diverse plant life of the southern Appalachians by way of Georgia's Blue Ridge on a well-chronicled trip he made through the area in 1775.
After gold was discovered in Lumpkin and White counties in the late 1820s, the ensuing gold rush of the 1830s, along with a more general western migration by land-hungry settlers, precipitated the eviction of the Cherokees and their forced migration to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears in 1838-39. The cooler climate and scenic beauty of the region led to the establishment of antebellum summer resorts in Clarkesville, Cleveland, and Tallulah Falls.
After the Civil War, the copper industry developed along the Tennessee-Georgia border, causing great damage to the forests because of the large amounts of timber needed to fuel copper smelters. Even greater forest damage resulted from the lumber industry that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. Mountain forests were stripped bare of trees by major logging operations centered near the towns of Dahlonega, Ellijay, and Helen, as well as by numerous smaller sawmills.
Similar devastations of other forests around the nation prompted the creation of a national movement to restore and preserve forests. Georgia's Blue Ridge mountain lands were some of the first acquired by the U.S. government for this purpose. The Chattahoochee National Forest was established in 1937. Since then, one of the most important benefits of the Chattahoochee forest has been a clean water source for metropolitan Atlanta.
It was also during the late nineteenth century that the production of illegal alcohol—particularly
Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains have a rich cultural heritage associated with the southern Appalachians. Out of that heritage came many varieties of folk art and music, including bluegrass. Bluegrass music is a unique sound that features mostly acoustic instruments and combines elements of both traditional Scottish and Irish folk music. Music and other aspects of mountain culture and folklife are celebrated at the Georgia Mountain Fair, held every August since 1950 in Hiawassee.
The Foxfire magazine and books, published by students since the late 1960s, first at Rabun Gap–Nacoochee School and today at Rabun County High School, have chronicled the history, culture, traditions, and daily life in Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. James Dickey's novel, Deliverance, published in 1970, conveyed a very different, and far more negative, image of the region and its people.
Fred Brown and Nell Jones, ed., The Georgia Conservancy's Guide to the North Georgia Mountains, 3d ed. (Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996).
Georgia Handbook (Chico, Calif.: Moon Publications, 1995).
John C. Inscoe, "Appalachian Otherness, Real and Perceived," in The New Georgia Guide (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996).
James Randklev, Georgia (Englewood, Colo.: Westcliffe Publishers, ).
Eliot Wigginton, ed., The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972).
Charles Seabrook, Decatur
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.