Cohutta Wilderness Area reopened; caution advised

The U.S. Forest Service announced last week the reopening of the Cohutta Wilderness and adjacent areas, including all trails within the wilderness area. The entire Cohutta Wilderness and some surrounding areas on the Chattahoochee National Forest have been closed to the public since Nov. 4 for the safety of firefighters and forest visitors. 

The Rough Ridge Fire, which was started by a lightning strike discovered on Oct. 16, burned 27,870 acres in Fannin, Gilmer and Murray counties. The fire was declared 100 percent contained on Dec. 6, thanks to the work of firefighters and after nearly 4 inches of rain fell over the burned area the week prior.

Cohutta Wilderness visitors may face new hazards. Trees weakened from the fire could fall along trail heads, trails, dispersed camping areas and throughout the burned area. The fire impacted segments of all trails south of the Jacks River, and visitors may encounter more narrow trail widths or completely missing trail segments where the fire burned organic material under the trail tread, particularly along single-track sections of trail.  

Heavy rains may increase flash flooding potential, particularly along river corridors within the wilderness area. As always, individuals should have a planned route and let others know their plans, be prepared and self-reliant, and able to deal with changing conditions when visiting any wilderness area. 

Over the past week, a Burned Area Emergency Response team has been assessing critical values such as human life and safety, property, natural resources and cultural and heritage resources within the burned area. Interim findings indicate the burn severity was low across 99 percent of the burned area and moderate on 1 percent (less than 40 acres) of the area (see map).  

There may be some delayed mortality of trees in the burned area resulting from the fire, exceptional drought and other factors, but the extent of that will not be known until leaf out in the spring because most of the trees were dormant when the fire started.

For more updates and to learn more about Georgia’s national forests, download the official free mobile app  for your smartphone or tablet, or visit us on the web at www.fs.usda.gov/conf. You can also get the latest forest news by liking us on Facebook and following us on twitter @ChattOconeeNF.

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