Learning About the Scioto Ecosystem

Little, Stone and Jenkins Mountains
Unicoi and Carter Counties, Tennessee
Photo of Scioto Ecosystem

Picnic areas, historical places, a shooting range, and unusual environmental conditions nestled among suburban landscapes at the foothills of Unaka Mountain…

An Interesting Place

The Scioto Ecosystem Management Cluster spans the mountain slopes between Unicoi, Johnson City, and Elizabethton. The ecosystems in the Scioto area range from the rich riparian forest of Limestone Cove to the unusually dry streams and forests of Little, Stone and Jenkins Mountains. The area offers picnicking, fishing, hunting, and a rich cultural history. Little Mountain and Stone Mountain sit at the foot of Unaka Mountain, providing cascading mountain scenery from I-26 and Pinnacle Tower.

Studying the Scioto Ecosystem (Vicinity Map)

Planners and managers in Cherokee National Forest are investigating all of the resources and potential management in the publicly held lands of the Scioto Ecosystem Cluster. A comprehensive study of the areas resources is underway.

Fire Resources

Fire has played a major role in some forest communities across the southern United States, including the Southern Appalachians. Early settlers found Native Americans using fire and adopted the practice themselves to provide better access, improve hunting and to get rid of brush. This practice plus destructive wildfires after landscape-scale logging around the turn of the 20th Century resulted in a policy of exclusion of all fire from the woods. Fire is now used by managers to reduce hazardous fuels and to control the effects of fire to provide beneficial outcomes.

Forest Resources


Age-Class Distribution

Prescription Areas

Forest Community Types

Forest Resource Opportunities

Plant and Animal Life

The Scioto Ecosystem assessment area ranges from the rich riparian corridor of North Indian Creek to the dry mountain slopes of Jenkins Mountain, Little Mountain and Stone Mountain. The area is home to a variety of plants and animals, and opportunities to enjoy nature are available.

Life on Land

Life in the Water

Rare Species and Communities

Recreation Resources

Recreation and Trail Resource Assessment

Recreation Opportunities

Roads Resources

Roads Analysis

Transportation Map

Scenery Resources

Scenery and Special Places in the Scioto Creek Study Area

“The rugged natural terrain challenges the strong-hearted who love the primitive wilderness largely untainted by the spoiling hand of man…Every cove, valley, hill and gorge is different in context and character…It seems impossible that so much of scenic beauty and historic background could be crowded into such a small area.
Pat Alderman, Wonders of the Unakas in Unicoi County, 1964

The Scioto Creek watershed is characterized by narrow valleys nestled between tall rolling mountains. Stone, Jenkins and Little mountains flank winding travelways with Unaka Mountain looming in the background. You can catch long-range views of the rolling mountain landscapes in the Scioto Creek watershed from Interstate 26 between Exits 27 and 34, from US 19E between Valley Forge to just past TN 361 and from the valley community of Limestone Cove. From various travelways (TN 361, TN 173, TN 107, Scioto Road and others) the area’s mountaintops are prominent, but with few long-range views. Portions of the area can be seen as immediate foreground from Little Doe River, North Indian Creek, Scioto Creek, Simerly Creek and other scattered branches. Most of the private land in this watershed is developed into rural residential tracts of varying sizes, where residents can view the mountains from their own front porches. Most of the public land is natural-appearing.

Scenic Settings

Natural-Appearing/Natural-Evolving Landscape Character

Natural-appearing landscapes are the most predominant settings all over Cherokee National Forest. These kinds of landscapes appear natural, but have been influenced by humans. Many of the forested areas have regenerated after extensive logging in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. The ridges, coves, valleys and creek corridors characterizing the Stone, Jenkins and Little mountain areas in Unicoi and Carter counties (Elizabethton, Iron Mountain Gap, Johnson City and Unicoi quadrangles) are blanketed with an almost continuous canopy of soft- to medium-textured rounded tree forms, creating a natural-appearing landscape character. The mountains provide a dramatic forested backdrop for Interstate 26, US 19E and the towns of Hampton, Unicoi and Valley Forge. Elevations range from high points of 3,600 feet atop Stone Mountain to 1,750 along Little Doe River near Valley Forge. These natural-appearing mountain landscapes are accessed by a limited number of forest roads, and are characterized by a moderate degree of remoteness.

Natural-evolving landscapes are characterized by a high degree of remoteness and relatively few contacts with other people. The character is affected by natural disturbances or indirect activities by humans. Generally found in designated wilderness, this setting can be found in other areas where human influence is minimal. Stone Mountain is an example of this type landscape character, with very light visitor use, no system trails and less than two miles of roads. The 5,373-acre inventoried Roadless Area is currently managed through FLRM Prescription 12.B as Remote Backcountry Non-Motorized Recreation Area.

Photos: Natural-Appearing/Natural-Evolving

Pastoral/Agricultural Landscape Character

This setting is characterized by an altered landscape that is partially open. Structures may be present and often occur in clusters. This setting is usually present on private land. In this watershed, pastoral landscapes are a significant portion of the scenic resource. Meadows, pastures and croplands, interspersed among the wooded mountainsides, create enclaves of pastoral landscape and continue the agricultural heritage of the region.

Photos: Pastoral/Agricultural

Historic/Cultural Landscape Character 

This setting has resulted from human activities and contains positive cultural elements such as farm houses, barns and agricultural outbuildings, orchards, pastures, hedgerows, fences and some remnants of native forest. In the Scioto Creek Watershed, many of the elements that shape the historic/cultural landscape character also define the pastoral/agricultural landscape character. Portions of the area have been settled since the late 1700s, with schools appearing as early as the 1830s. Along the area’s winding travelways, a number of sites and places can be seen that notably contribute to the area’s historic cultural landscape character. Privately owned Davis Springs in Limestone Cove was historically a site for neighborhood gatherings and singings. Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove figures in Civil War history from a Confederate raid on civilians locally known as the “Bell Massacre” in 1863. Remnants of the historic narrow gauge Johnson City, Bakersville and Southern Railway/Unicoi Railway (1905 – 1919) can be seen along North Indian Creek, particularly in Limestone Cove picnic area. Remnants of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad line, known as Tweetsie (1868 – 1950), can be seen especially during leaf-off months along Jenkins Mountain between Valley Forge and the Doe River gorge. CCC-era development at The Laurels, including two rustic pavilions, contributes to the area’s historic/cultural landscape character. (Camp Cordell Hull and other CCC-era sites lie just outside the Scioto Creek watershed boundary.)

Photos: Historic/Cultural

Rural/Forested Landscape Character

This setting is characterized by a culturally influenced landscape. Sometimes there is forest cover; sometimes the landscape is partially open and forested. These landscapes have resulted from extensive human activities. Structures are often present, in clusters. This setting occurs both on private and public lands. Cherokee National Forest recreation development at The Laurels, Limestone Cove and Scioto Shooting Range are the closest examples of this type landscape character, along with privately owned land in the watershed.

Photos: Rural/Forested

Urban Landscape Character

This setting has resulted from extensive human activities and is no longer natural-appearing. It is characterized by a predominance of paved surfaces and buildings. Trees and other vegetation offer aesthetic contrast. In the Scioto Creek Watershed, privately owned commercial development along I-26 near Okolona and Unicoi and along US 19E in Valley Forge and Hampton is the closest example of this type landscape character.

Special Places

Public lands in the Scioto Creek Watershed offer some unique and special places, including:

North Indian Creek

Rich wildflower beds at Limestone Cove

CCC-era pavilions at The Laurels

Raised rail bed for Unicoi Railway at Limestone Cove

Rock outcrops off TN 361 near Gap Creek Road

Photos: Special Places

Intrusions to the area’s scenic settings

In the Scioto Creek Watershed, the natural-appearing/natural-evolving landscapes combine with agricultural/pastoral landscapes to create a unique sense of place. As far as possible, changes to the landscape should seek to compliment and reflect this sense of place. Natural and human-influenced elements can detract from the landscape character and unique setting. In this area, the main intrusions include commercial and residential development and utility lines.

Photos: Intrusions

The goal of the National Forest Scenery Management System is to create and maintain landscapes having high scenic diversity, harmony and unity for the benefit of society in general.

Why are we managing scenery? So that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the beauty and spirit of the national forests, just as we have enjoyed them.

---Landscape Aesthetics, 1995

Nature-based outdoor recreation opportunities and scenery are key ingredients for enhancing a “sense of place” in the Southern Appalachians.

----Southern Appalachian Assessment, 1996

Social and Economic Resources

The Social and Economic Environment

Unicoi County General Demographics

Carter County General Demograpics 

Special Use Resources

Scioto Assessment - Special Uses