It’s not unusual for hikers, backpackers, whitewater paddlers, trout fishermen and a host of other outdoor enthusiasts to refer to the Harper Creek and Lost Cove areas as “Wilderness Areas.”
The mistake is understandable: here, in the Wilson Creek drainage at the base of Grandfather Mountain, you’ll find some of the wildest and most scenic terrain around. Harper Creek, North Harper Creek, Gragg Prong and other waterways spill down Grandfather Mountain’s east flank on the Blue Ridge Escarpment creating spectacular falls and enticing pools. Terrain inhospitable to logging and other agricultural uses in the past supports old growth forest that adds to the untouched-by-man feel of this 13,000-acre backcountry escape. Need more evidence suggesting this is wilderness? Try following one of the primitive trails that explore the region, especially one that crosses creeks (and in the Wilson Creek area, very few trails don’t).
Wilderness? If this isn’t, what is?

In fact, the 7,138-acre Harper Creek and the 5,708-acre Lost Cove areas are Wilderness Study Areas, designations they both received under the NC Wilderness Act of 1984. Both have been awaiting formal designation by Congress as Wilderness Areas.
And both are in danger of having that hope dashed by losing their WSA status.
“Anti-Wilderness and other groups are attempting to convince the U.S. Forest Service to recommend stripping WSA protections and thus any future Wilderness potential from Harper Creek and Lost Cove in the revision of its Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan now underway,” says Chapel Hill documentary filmmaker John Wilson, who also sits on the board of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

“With pockets of old growth and even virgin timber,” he adds, “these beautiful hardwood forests offer some of the best hiking, backpacking, swimming, fishing, wildlife and bird viewing, hunting and solitude imaginable, and include a favorite leg of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail.”
Both areas are threatened by development interests who want the WSA designation stripped in the National Forest Service’s revision of its Land Management plans for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. The Wilson Creek area is part of the Pisgah National Forest’s Grandfather District.
Should the Harper Creek and Lost Cove areas lose their WSA designation, not only would the areas have a diminished shot at receiving full Wilderness status from Congress, they would also be open to the non-recreational uses permitted in national forests. Mining, for instance. Or logging.

Recreational considerations aside, the current WSA status — and ultimately, full Wilderness designation — would continue one of the area’s most vital functions: maintaining the pristine quality of water draining off Grandfather Mountain.
The good news is that our National Forests were created to manage our woodlands — totaling about 188.3 million acres nationwide — in the best interests of all the people. The National Forest Service is currently seeking input on how we, the people, would like this resource managed. Developmental interests have expressed themselves, now it’s your turn.
Public comment on the revision is open until Jan. 5. Read on to learn how you can express your thoughts on the proper use of the Harper Creek and Lost Cove areas of Wilson Creek.

Speak out on Harper Creek and Lost Cove WSAs

If you feel the Harper Creek and Lost Cove areas are worthy of Wilderness designation and should retain their Wilderness Study Area status, contact Kristen Bail, supervisor, Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest.  Include your name and where you’re from, and personalize your comments as much as possible: if you have personal experience in the area, share what that experience has meant to you.

You can write Bail via email, at, or by letter, at:

Kristen Bail, Supervisor
Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest
160 Zillcoa St., Suite A
Asheville, NC 28801

Again, the deadline for receiving comment is Jan. 5.

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A hike down Harper Creek/North Harper Creek

Need more visual proof of the region’s worthiness as a Wilderness area? Tag along on this GetHiking! trip to North Harper Creek and Harper Creek from this summer.