Three Top Mountain’s rugged terrain of rocky peaks and steep cliff faces may sometimes lead you to believe you’re no longer in the North Carolina mountains. Local flora and fauna thrive within these rich natural communities supporting a remarkable diversity of plant and animal life.
Three Top Mountain is named for its three impressive rock outcroppings and is part of the Amphibolite Mountain chain. Located in Ashe and Watauga counties, the Amphibolites include Howard Knob, Elk Knob, Snake Mountain, Big Phoenix, Paddy Mountain and Mount Jefferson. The soil composition is rich with calcium and harbors many rare species of plants — quite a few not found anywhere else on earth.
The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program defines the land along Three Top Mountain as exceptional, the highest rating a natural area can receive.
In addition to protecting nine rare plant communities and six headwater streams, this conservation success expands access to the Three Top Mountain Game Land, known as a destination for a variety of recreational opportunities. Hunters can take advantage of the 2,500-acre game land, hikers will find rugged trails and hidden waterfalls, and in the spring, birders observe nesting songbirds like the rose-breasted grosbeak.
“The ecologically sensitive Amphibolite chain is a core conservation focus area for Blue Ridge Conservancy,” said BRC Executive Director Charlie Brady. “Adding 1,000 acres of contiguous forest to the existing 2,500 acres of game land will strengthen wildlife corridors for species like black bear, bobcats and migrating birds. It will also protect endangered plant species by buffering the threat of development.”
BRC will begin the process of transferring most of the land to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) over the next couple of years. NCWRC will incorporate and manage the land as part of Three Top Mountain Game Land. A new public access point is being considered.
Nearby existing conservation areas include Elk Knob State Park, Bluff Mountain Preserve, which protected by The Nature Conservancy, and Paddy Mountain, owned and managed by the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program. It took the work of many funding sources to make these land transactions possible. The major contributors include Fred and Alice Stanback, (state funding from the) North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and private donors.
BRC relies on the support of the community and its members to protect more land and water resources in the High Country. If you are interested in learning more or becoming involved, visit the website at www.blueridgeconservancy.org.