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Waterfall & Cliff Communities

The Hidden Gems of the Southern Highlands Reserve

Our waterfall and cliff communities exemplify the value of preserving rare ecosystems. Comprising the upper-most face of the Blue Ridge Escarpment as seen from the piedmont of South Carolina, these 100 acres experience an astonishing increase in altitude of 1,000 feet, with peak elevation at 4,700 feet. Though our initial discovery process was not an easy one, every new waterfall and grotto we found led us to search for more rare and unusual botanical treasures.

Documented as a nationally significant Natural Heritage Area by Ed Schwartzman of the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund, these areas of the Reserve encompass a fragile environment that must be vigilantly preserved. Therefore, only the most essential conveyances have been constructed here, and access is restricted to avoid damage from trampling. Two roads for vehicular access for both the summit and waterfalls were carefully constructed to avoid the most environmentally sensitive spaces in these communities.

Much of the access here was achieved through the ingenious work of artisan Aaron Bailey, who implanted iron steps with hand rails in rock faces and built a wooden spiral staircase attached to an automobile axle and universal joint to traverse cliff faces, steep ravines and slippery rock surfaces in and around the waterfall grotto areas. Aaron also constructed a Via Ferrata (The Iron Way) across a sheer rock face that significantly contributes to the ability of hikers to traverse trails and rock faces while leaving a minimal footprint.

Nested within the larger Montane Acidic Cliff community, several spray cliffs occur at the head of small streams where water has cut through bedrock to form waterfalls with grottoes. A number of rare and unusual spray cliff plants grow together in these areas, including round-leaf sundew, rock-fir clubmoss and grotto alumroot. All of the wet grotto areas are covered with dense mats of moss and liverwort. The steep southeast-facing slope drops down from a broad wind-swept summit above that is home to stunted and gnarled red oaks and chestnut oaks. Layered bands of gneiss form an extensive cliff complex.

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Plant Varieties

  • Red oaks
  • Chestnut oaks
  • Grass–of–Parnassus
  • Round-leaf sundew
  • Rock-fir clubmoss
  • Grotto alumroot
  • Grotto felt
  • Appalachian shoestring fern 
  • Granite dome bluet
  • Moss
  • Liverwort

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