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Tallulah Gorge in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Province

The Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge, the Cumberland Plateau, and the Valley and Ridge are all part of the Appalachian Mountains—also known as Appalachia. The part of Appalachia known as the Blue Ridge is technically called the Blue Ridge province, which should be distinguished from the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge province, which stretches from northern Georgia to southern Pennsylvania, contains many different mountain ranges. Together, these ranges form what is literally the rooftop of eastern North America. The Blue Ridge province is shaped somewhat like an elongated teardrop; it is 12 to 15 miles wide in northern Virginia, but becomes much wider toward the southern end of the region where, across Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, the province is more than 70 miles wide.

Running down the eastern edge of the province is the region's namesake range, the Blue Ridge Mountains. This historic mountain range forms an almost unbroken wall which stretches from Georgia through Virginia. For much of its length, the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains forms the drainage dividing line—known as the Eastern Continental Divide—which separates rivers flowing eastward into the Atlantic Ocean from those flowing westward to the Gulf of Mexico.

The western part of the Blue Ridge province is made up of several other ranges known collectively as the Unaka Mountains. The Unakas include the Iron Mountains in southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee, the Bald Mountains and Stone Mountains along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, and, farther south, the famous Great Smoky Mountains. South of the Smokies are the Unicoi Mountains and, in Georgia, the southernmost component of the Unaka Range—the Cohutta Mountains.

While the Cohuttas, as one segment of the Unaka Range, are part of the Blue Ridge province's western side, they are geologically and geographically independent of their counterpart range to the east—the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Geologically, the Eastern Blue Ridge and Western Blue Ridge sections are divided by a break in the earth's surface called the Hayesville Fault. The Eastern Blue Ridge has more highly metamorphosed rocks (mostly schists and gneisses) than its counterpart. In addition, the Eastern Blue Ridge is more or less one continuous high ridge, while in the Western Blue Ridge the mountains tend to be in isolated groupings. Also, the Western Blue Ridge has a unique feature called the Murphy Syncline, a great trough stretching from the marble quarries near Tate through Ellijay to Blue Ridge, Georgia. This syncline is a long, low, straight pass through the mountains and the easiest major access to the valleys and Tennessee River tributaries lying north of the Blue Ridge.

The Blue Ridge enjoys a botanically rich mixture of temperate climate plants. North meets South in Georgia's mountains, with northern species mixing with their southern kin. Many northern species are at their southern limits here. The Southern Highlands contains the greatest mixture of temperate climate plants in the world, save eastern temperate Asia, located at about the same latitude. The Blue Ridge is generally part of the Appalachian flyway for birds, especially warblers, tanagers, thrushes, and vireos. Because the climate more resembles that of New Jersey than of Georgia, birds nest here that do not nest in the valleys below. Rose-breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager, dark-eyed junco, chestnut-sided warbler, black-throated blue warbler, and black-throated green warbler are but a few examples. These are all birds that nest in the North or in mountainous regions of the South.

Most of the mountain forests managed by the Forest Service lie in the Western Blue Ridge and Eastern Blue Ridge, as do all of the wildernesses. For details of the history and use of wildernesses, please consult Appendix H. Appendix I addresses the management plan by which the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is currently administered. There the reader will find a brief explanation of how our national forest is zoned in Management Area categories, some being potential wildernesses and others lying adjacent to established wildernesses.

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