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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains

By Lynda McDaniel

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Sherpa Guides > North Carolina Mountains > The Nantahala Mountains > Tsali and Cable Cove Recreation Areas

Click here for a new window with a large version of this map.Tsali and Cable Cove Recreation Areas

[Fig. 32(3), Fig. 33] Tsali, an internationally renowned mountain biking facility, derives its name from a Cherokee hero martyred in connection with the infamous Trail of Tears, when thousands of Cherokee were rounded up for forced removal to Oklahoma. The historical record is impossibly murky, but Tsali and some members of his family were apparently executed by their own people, perhaps to placate military authorities, in the aftermath of a scuffle in which one or more U.S. soldiers were killed. Some accounts say Tsali willingly sacrificed his life so that some of his countrymen could remain amid their beloved mountains. In any case, he has become a symbol of Cherokee resistance to oppression.

Today, intrepid off-road cyclists plunge down sharp ravines and catch glimpses of Fontana's sparkling waters through the trees where Cherokee and infantry once dueled. These bikers share Tsali's four trail loops—Tsali Left (11.9 miles), Tsali Right (11 miles), Mouse Branch (6.5 miles), and Thompson (7.7 miles)—with equestrian users, alternating on specified days. (Call the ranger station, or check the information at the trailhead.) Shorter 4- and 8-mile loops off Tsali Right are also possible. Hikers may enjoy the trails at all times, though it is wise to keep an eye and ear out for onrushing cyclists and skittish horses.

Tsali's 3,000 acres straddle the Swain County/Graham County line, amid some of the more rugged terrain in the eastern United States. The topography within the recreation area, however, is gentler than the topography of much of the land around it, and, consequently, this acreage was once intensively farmed. That explains the abundance of southern yellow pine or shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), one of the first species to reclaim abandoned farmlands. Recently, however, the southern pine beetle has been inflicting significant damage. In general, Tsali's vegetation is typical of lower-elevation, southern Appalachian hardwood forests, with their white oak (Quercus alba), hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana), poplar (Populus gileadensis), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), and white pine (Pinus strobus). Other vegetation includes mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), sumacs, and scattered berry patches.

Wildflowers are abundant, among them sunflower (Helianthus tomentosus), cone- flower (Rudbeckia hirta), wild phlox (Polemoniaceae), horsemint (Collinsonia canadensis), downy false foxglove (Aureolaria virginica), soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), gentian (Gentiana decora), orchids, and violets. Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and assorted songbirds can be seen, especially feasting on insects in grassy areas. Larger animals include white-tailed deer, an occasional wild boar (Sus scrofa), and black bear that sometimes swim across the lake.

About 20 miles west of Tsali stands the much smaller (40 acres) Cable Cove Recreation Area [Fig. 32(2)] which, like Tsali, provides a boat ramp and a somewhat more primitive campground. Vegetation includes white pine and yellow-poplar and abundant wildflowers. In May, the mountain laurel and rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense and maximum) bedeck the slopes in blooms. Cable Cove is also a good area for spotting warblers and other neotropical migrant bird species.

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