Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Anna Ruby Falls, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia

Where does the water forming Anna Ruby Falls come from? Above the falls is a 2,600-acre basin on the southern side of Tray Mountain. This forested watershed stores, filters and funnels rain water into streams that lead to the twin waterfalls. Abundant, clean water is one of the prime values of a healthy forest.

The size of the watershed, the size and duration of a rain storm, soil moisture, vegetation, and season affect the flow of water over Anna Ruby Falls the most. The flow is always changing day to day. A typical rainstorm we would expect to see 6 or 7 times a year can produce a flow of about 3,000 gallons per second.

When the soil is extremely wet or dry the ground is not able to soak up very much water. Most of the water flows over the surface of the ground into small streams and eventually into larger streams and rivers. When this happens, we see a rapid increase in water flow over the falls that subsides in a day or two.

Healthy forests act like sponges that hold water and gradually release it into streams. Water stored in the soil and cracks in the bedrock maintains a steady flow of water over time.

Underground springs and seeps occur where underground water finds its way to the surface and emerges. The temperature of this water remains relatively constant year round -- between 50 and 60 degrees. In winter this water melts snow, exposing a rich source of food for a variety of wildlife.

The mountains in this forest are a part of the Blue Ridge, which runs from Virginia, through North and South Carolina into Georgia. The geology here is ancient and complex. About 300 million years ago continental plates collided, buckling the earth's surface, and creating mountains. Erosion has reduced the once massive mountains to their present form.

Trees that fall over a creek provide critical habitat and shade for a variety of species, including trout, salamanders, and aquatic insects. All fallen trees are home for fungus, bacteria and invertebrates. These tiny organisms, along with the weather, decompose the tree turning it into rich soil. In this way, the forest nutrients are recycled.

Tumbling down from Tray Mountain, Curtis and York Creeks flow over exposed granite to form two extraordinary waterfalls. The taller of the two, formed from Curtis Creek, drops 153 feet, while York Creek joins it with a 50 foot drop. Together they form Smith Creek at the base of the falls. Legend has it that a local confederate soldier, Colonel John H. "Captain" Nichols, found the waterfalls while horseback riding in the area and decided to give both falls the name Anna Ruby, after his only daughter. 

Stories abound of a log flume that was built from the top of Curtis Creek, around the front of the falls to the opposite of Smith Creek. Local accounts say so much timber got loose and splintered as it "ballhooted" over the falls that the owners went broke and had to sell out.

In the late 1800s, trees from here fed a huge sawmill in the nearby town of Helen. Overharvesting and poor land management left the forest in a state of ruin. Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest was established in 1936 to restore a healthy forest, as well as protect wildlife and watersheds. Today timber is managed to ensure healthy forests for the future.

Natural communities can be identified by the plants and animals that live there, along with its physical characteristics, such as soils, topography, and moisture. This is a Cove Forest, which has a diverse population of plants and animals. This cove forest is dominated by tulip popular and hemlock trees, rhododendron and mountain laurel. The cove forest is typical of steep, narrow gorges.

Smith Creek runs from the base of Anna Ruby Falls and will finally flow into the Gulf of Mexico some 550 miles away. Smith Creek may not be safe to drink unless boiled first. Soil erosion and illegal trash dumping are only two of the many forms of pollution that may be found in the watershed forming Smith Creek.

Native Americans from the Cherokee and Creek tribes were abundant in this area until the historic Trail of Tears in 1838, which removed most of the Native Americans from this area to Oklahoma. Their names for many of Georgia's creeks, rivers, and mountains are still used today.

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