A Summer in the Nantahala National Forest

By: William A. Joseph

WJ 1

First, I want to thank Andrew Triplett (a Mississippi State Alumnus) for hiring me on as a Forest Service Intern.  Before I arrived in Murphy, North Carolina, Andrew had already started his detail in Vermont and left me a list of projects to do over the summer. While he was beating the heat up north, I really got the hands-on experience I was looking for as a Forest Service employee in the Tusquitee District of the Nantahala National Forest. In addition to the fieldwork, I also had to participate in all of the project meetings.  While the conference room setting took some getting used to, it showed me the value of the interdisciplinary effort of the Forest Service as an agency.  I enjoyed talking with other specialists about their work and going out in the field with the forest’s botanist.

WJ 2

My first task was to assess 15 of the 21 Priority Heritage Asset (PHA) sites that require monitoring every five years. These sites are a fraction of the 1559 sites that have already been discovered in the Nantahala National Forest.  A site is designated as a PHA when it contains components that are deemed a cultural resource with, “distinct public value,” that is now in need of maintenance or already has a management plan.

The Wilson Lick Ranger Station is a great example of a historic site that has the potential to deteriorate if it’s not closely monitored and maintained.  This cabin was built in 1916, and served as the first ranger station for the newly formed Nantahala National Forest.

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Inside the cabin, leaves, acorns, nests, and any trash has to be removed in order to allow the wood to dry. It was great to be able to see the interior of this structure, which is normally locked to the public.

WJ 4

Another interesting PHA was the Hawkins Rockhouse.  It is a rockshelter complex with at least eight habitable rockshelters and several adjacent landforms that could contain multiple episodes of prehistoric and historic period use.  It has been recommended that the area be surveyed to determine the boundaries of these sites, and the subsurface impacts from recreational use.  In addition, several test units should be excavated in order to assess the presence (or absence) of any artifacts, and the extent of known looter damages by rock hounds and pot hunters.

My second task was to begin surveying an area that was eventually going to be harvested for timber.  Building maps using ArcGIS online, I was able to highlight the areas that needed to be surveyed and come up with strategies for reaching the more remote places.  In the mountainous environment that needed to be surveyed, my project area was defined by slope data.  Places with less than 20% slope, within the stands being harvested, needed shovel testing on a 15 meter grid.  Sites were delineated at 5m intervals.

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More procedural information on surveying can be seen in several other posts on the AMEC blog.

Although this internship was my primary reason for being in the Nantahala, working was only one aspect of the summer. An added bonus to working in the Nantahala was being able to take advantage of the area’s numerous trails, rivers, and lakes in my free time. This post only captures a small portion of my summer experience.  There were many other sites, many other shovel tests, and many other adventures that I had this summer.



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