Jocassee Gorges at Sunset

In the uppermost reaches of South Carolina, the clear waters of Lake Jocassee splash against the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, a "Blue Wall" of hills that represent the sharp transition between our Carolina Mountains and Piedmont. Here forested slopes drop in elevation by 2,000 vertical feet in a matter of one to two miles.

Picture from Caesar's Head look out point This steep forested condition represents the Escarpment's general character throughout its length in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Around Lake Jocassee (from the South Carolina/Georgia line eastward to Jones Gap State Park), however, a series of steep-sided gorges carrying surging mountain rivers and streams down to the Piedmont has cut the generally uniform sloping face of the Escarpment. These gorges together are known as the Jocassee Gorges.

Picture of Waterfall Streams with names such as Saluda, Eastatoe, Laurel Fork, Toxaway, Horsepasture, Bearcamp, Thompson, Whitewater, Devils Fork and Chattooga carved these rugged gorges and produced scenic waterfalls and other natural beauties. These gorges, their streams, and the more than 75 inches of precipitation that occurs here each year make this area unique among mountain settings in the eastern United States.

The name "Jocassee," according to Native American legend, means "Place of the Lost One." Evocative Indian names echo throughout the Jocassee region, such as Oconee and Eastatoe, both tribes which inhabited the area. The Eastatoees were called the Green Birds and likely received their name from the Carolina parakeet, the only parrot native to eastern North America, a species that became extinct in 1904. The Eastatoe valley was the last site where scientists recorded a sighting of the species in South Carolina. Picture of Oconee bells

This region has drawn the attention of scientists for centuries. It is where, in the mid-1700s, William Bartram discovered the flame azalea along with other species new to science, and enjoyed "a view inexpressibly magnificent and comprehensive" from the crest of Oconee Mountain (now Station Mountain).

In 1787, botanist Andre Michaux discovered his "small plant with saw-toothed leaves" that today is recognized as Oconee bells, a rare plant species that is a hallmark of the Jocassee Gorges. It was also the location of many detailed botanical studies that in the mid-1900s documented the unique qualities of the Jocassee Gorges region.

Picture of Black Bear During the past century, much of the land has been owned and managed by commercial timber interests. In more recent years, the area has also been the site of important wildlife and fisheries restoration projects involving white-tailed deer, wild turkey, peregrine falcons, and brook trout, among others. Perhaps most important, this mountainous region across the upper reaches of South Carolina and adjacent North Carolina and Georgia has been the site of major conservation and land preservation efforts over the past decades. These efforts involved federal and state agencies, land trusts, conservation groups and corporations. These organizations have provided for us, and future generations, a protected landscape and ecosystem that will ensure the continuation of important natural resources while allowing compatible and safe use by the public.

Jocassee Gorges was protected thanks to a cooperative acquisition effort between the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Duke Energy and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, assisted by The Conservation Fund. Recently completed and proposed acquisitions of these Jocassee Gorges lands by state and federal agencies -- and the establishment by Duke Energy of a conservation easement on portions of its retained holdings -- ensure the continued protection of significant natural and recreational resources. It also provides an important physical linkage with extensive Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area lands to the east and National Forest lands to the west.

Together, these areas, plus conservation lands in adjacent North Carolina and Georgia, provide protection for about 150,000 acres associated with South Carolina's Blue Ridge Escarpment and its watersheds.

Picture of hikers during fall The Jocassee Gorges tract contains about 43,500 acres. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources owns most of this land, and activities here are governed by a management plan and regulations they've developed, in large part, in response to public input. The U.S. Forest Service proposes to purchase land on the western edges of the tract and will manage these holdings as part of Sumter National Forest. Duke Energy, the former owner of all the Jocassee Gorges tract, has maintained ownership of some of the lands for the operation of its Bad Creek Pumped Storage Station. Duke Energy is also retaining other lands as an option for additional pumped storage hydro generation but has otherwise given up development rights through a conservation easement to the DNR. Public access to the Duke Energy lands is allowed. Activities on the Duke-owned portions vary according to location, but the conservation easement ensures access and inclusion of the lands in the DNR's Wildlife Management Area program.

Picture of Family enjoying fall scenary The most important consideration in the Jocassee Gorges management plan is to maintain the natural character of the area. The secondary objective is to provide public recreation compatible with the area's natural character. Remember that the management plan is a living document and will evolve with time. Recreational activities provided for in the plan include hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. The management plan also recognizes that Jocassee Gorges provides tremendous opportunity for scientific study and education.

Many partners in addition to those already mentioned helped make the Jocassee Gorges acquisition possible. Among those partnering with the DNR were Duke Energy, Richard King Mellon Foundation; The Conservation Fund; North American Wetlands Conservation Council; S.C. General Assembly; S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; S.C. Forestry Commission; Clemson University; Governor's Office; South Carolina Congressional Delegation; U.S. Forest Service; The Nature Conservancy; National Wild Turkey Federation; the law firm of Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough; the Foothills Trail Conference; Trout Unlimited; S.C. Wildlife Federation; Sierra Club; and many other groups and private individuals.