Reece Place Falls
9-24-18 Western North Carolina's newest outdoor playground - the 6,730 acre Headwaters State Forest - officially opened to the public on September 8, 2018! Headwaters is adjacent to over 100,000 acres of conserved lands in both North and South Carolina and provides a vital link between these lands for wildlife movement. The preservation of this valuable property has been almost 10 years in the making and is the result of forward thinking land conservationist groups and people who also saw this large parcel of land as extremely important to preserving the water quality of the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River. Numerous creeks originate and flow through this property - all feeding into East Fork. The forest is home to numerous waterfalls, rare mountain bog and rocky cliff communities and provides habitat for federally endangered plant species and well as other plant and animal species of concern. The southern strain of the brook trout as well as brown and rainbow trout can be found in the numerous miles of the forest's classified trout streams. Headwaters SF lies in southern Transylvania County near Rosman and a portion of it borders South Carolina. There are access points along East Fork Rd, Glady Fork Rd, Dolly Masters Rd, and Happy Acres Rd. There are no parking lots or facilities at this time. Look for Headwaters SF diamond-shaped small signs on poles and trees, and red gates or old roads with cables across them. The Happy Acres Rd access is a gravel/dirt/rocks/mud road leading to Gum Gap that can be impassible for a car when it's in bad shape. Don't drive down any private roads in the area that have 'No State Forest Entry' signs. More information about the forest can be found at the North Carolina Forest Service site here. Be sure to read the FAQ page also!
Thankfully, Headwaters State Forest won't become another DuPont State Forest with overcrowded trails and parking lots. The property will be managed as a working forest by the NC Forest Service and will be open to hunting as public game land managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. You should know when all hunting seasons are and should wear blaze orange during that time. Information about hunting in NC can be found here. This land has been closed to public hunting for years and I'm guessing a lot of those hunters are eager test their skills in new territory. All waters will be designated as Public Mountain Trout Waters and classified as Wild Trout Waters. No special permit will be needed beyond the required NC Wildlife Resources Commission license(s). The mission statement of Headwaters State Forest is "The Mission of Headwaters State Forest is to protect, manage, and promote the lands encompassing the French Broad and Savannah River headwaters to provide high quality water, natural resources, forest products, dispersed recreation opportunities, and education for the residents of North Carolina."
The land for this new State Forest was purchased from former NC congressman Charles Taylor and family. It was previously leased and maintained by the Headwaters Hunt Club, and is crisscrossed by numerous old roads and foot trails. Right now there are no developed trails and no road and trail maps available for this property which will limit visitation to those skilled in reading a topo map or those who have GPS or similar phone app skills. This is not an area where you want to just go wandering around if you don't know what you are doing. Cell phone service in this area is very limited. The emphasis of recreation management at Headwaters will be low-impact, dispersed recreation with the goal of providing visitors an undeveloped, primitive setting. Recreational activities include hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting, and fishing. The forest is open to foot travel only - no mountain bikes or horseback riding are allowed! Dogs are allowed, but must be on leash at all times. At the current time there are no official parking areas, but small lots will be scattered about the property in the future. You are allowed to park along paved public roads that run through the property, but your vehicle must be completely off of the pavement and you must not block any gates, driveways, or park on any private roads. One thing I found particularly interesting while researching info on the forest is that it includes 6 acres in South Carolina and Sassafras Mountain - the highest point in SC. 9 miles of the Sassafras Mountain to Caesar's Head State Park spur of the Foothills Trail passes through Headwaters State Forest.
When plans for the forest were first announced, the press releases stated the land contains 25 waterfalls! If it does, they are very well hidden. The best known ones up to this point are East Fork Falls, Reece Place Falls, and Graveley Falls (aka Gravely Falls and Gravely Mill Falls). Previous reports and maps indicated the forest would be 8,000 acres and showed a parcel of land across from East Fork Falls that has a Laurel Falls on Laurel Branch. The Transylvania County GIS map indicates an 800 acre parcel of land that contains Laurel Branch is not part of Headwaters SF. This land is now posted and you can not access Laurel Falls. I've already added directions to the 3 known waterfalls and have also included a couple of hikes I've done so far. I'll post that and more as I continue to explore. One thing I will not do is post directions to any sensitive areas like mountain bogs. I recently spoke with Peter Barr - trails coordinator and trail builder extraordinair for Conserving Carolina - about trail development in Headwaters and he said "NC Forest Service's first expected development of Headwaters State Forest will be a sustainable trail to Reece Place Falls. Timeline for its start and completion, however, has not yet been determined."
Below are links to destinations I have visited (or revisited) since the forest officially opened. Please stay tuned for more!
Bursted Rock Hike - a 5.2 mile round trip hike to an excellent view
East Fork Falls - a really nice small waterfall only about 100 yards from the road
Graveley Falls - another small waterfall that is definitely worth a visit - I've also added a 2.5 mile loop hike on some of the unmarked roads that includes the waterfall
Reece Place Falls - the premier waterfall in Headwaters
some info on hiking from the Glady Fork Rd access points - there are several hikes that can be done from this area if you use your imagination!