Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire management officials are planning a 550-acre prescribed burn in the Wash Ridge unit adjacent to Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Weather permitting, burn operations could begin as early as Wednesday, March 18, and may continue intermittently through mid-April.
The burn is part of the larger multi-year prescribed fire project where fire managers have been conducting a series of low-intensity, controlled burns to restore the composition and open structure of the oak woodlands that occur on upper slopes and ridges within the area. These fire and drought-tolerant natural communities are important to wildlife and overall ecosystem health which are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region.
“One of the goals of the prescribed burn is to improve elk forage and habitat,” said Wildland Fire Module leader Shane Paxton. “This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing the regeneration of oak and yellow pines along with increasing the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Over time, this increase in herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor will improve forage for elk which graze the nearby meadows.”
The unpaved portion of the Cataloochee Entrance Road beyond the Pretty Hollow Gap Trailhead, locally known as the Wood Creek section, will be closed to vehicles during the burn. However, visitors may park at the Beech Grove School parking area and hike up the road to the trailheads in the upper valley. No trails closures are expected during the burn operations. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area.
The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are being funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.