Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
Protecting the World's Oldest Mountains

The Highlands of Roan

“It is the most beautiful and will best repay the labor of ascending it of all our high mountains.

With the exception of a body of rocks looking like the ruins of an old castle near its southwestern extremity, the top of the Roan may be described as a vast meadow without a tree to obstruct a prospect, where a person may gallop his horse for a mile or two with North Carolina at his feet on one side and Tennessee on the other and a great ocean of mountains raised in tremendous billows immediately around him.

It is the elysium of the southern botanist, as a number of plants are found growing in this cold and humid atmosphere which are not seen again until we have gone hundreds of miles further north….”

-Elisha Mitchell, 1839

Protecting a Natural Treasure

Straddling the border of Tennessee’s Carter County and North Carolina’s Mitchell and Avery Counties, the Roan Mountain massif rises above the farms and villages of the valley below. Known as the Highlands of Roan, these 25,000 acres of mountain peaks and ridges, for the most part above 4,000 feet in elevation, are renowned for their exceptional biological diversity and magnificent beauty. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverses the massif’s entire length. Conserving the Highlands of Roan was the initial effort of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) and remains today our flagship project.

A Unique and Special Place

One of the highest summits in the Appalachian Mountain range, Roan Mountain is unsurpassed in the south for the diversity of “northern” plant and animal species, remnants of the last Ice Age which have persisted in its cool high elevation climate. Roan’s ecosystem, comprised of 27 rare natural communities, nearly 800 plant species, , six federally listed species (spreading avens, Roan Mountain bluet, Blue Ridge goldenrod, rock gnome lichen, Carolina northern flying squirrel and spruce fir moss spider), and over 80 southern Appalachian endemic or regionally rare species, is one of the richest repositories of temperate zone biodiversity on earth. More than 180 bird species have been recorded there, 31 of which are listed in the highest priority categories of the National Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plans. Rare breeding species, such as the golden-winged warbler, alder flycatcher, and northern saw-whet owl, as well as a number of imperiled migrants, are cataloged on the Roan. The red spruce-Fraser fir forest is one of the most endangered ecological communities in North America. Roan’s globally endangered grassy balds—natural high-elevation mountain meadows--are the most extensive and highest quality in the southern Appalachians. Its natural Catawba rhododendron gardens are among the largest in the world. Roan’s protection is truly a global priority.

Beloved by the public, Roan Mountain offers many opportunities for low-impact recreation. In addition to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Overmountain National Historic Victory Trail, that traces the famous route of mountain patriots during the Revolutionary War, crosses the Roan Highlands. Whether to hike its trails, picnic among the rhododendron, fish its world-class trout streams, bird-watch, study its biology and geology, or photograph its glorious splendor, the Roan Highlands have inherent values treasured by people from all walks of life.

Conservation Goal

SAHC’s goal is to assure the viability of the Roan Massif ecosystem and protection of its exceptional natural, cultural and scenic heritage while accommodating non-destructive scientific, educational, and recreational public use.

The Roan Highlands remain imminently threatened as mountain development pressure intensifies each year. While two-thirds of the Roan Highlands are protected by federal, state and private conservation ownership, one-third remains in need of protection.

Land Stewardship

Protecting the land through acquisition or conservation easement is only the first step. In order to safeguard the future health and sustainability of the resources we have sought to protect, a perpetual stewardship program must be in place to prevent damage from ever-present threats to the natural values. A mutual commitment to the mountain’s protection and welfare has led to a collaborative partnership of land-owning agencies, organizations, and individuals, as well as those with species and rare natural community protection responsibilities and academic interest in the Roan Highlands. Together through joint stewardship projects, resource conservation planning and implementation programs, research and monitoring, we strive to apply the best science and practices to the restoration and long-term adaptive management of the entire Roan massif.

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