Our Waters

Where We Work

MountainTrue is headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, and we have regional offices in Boone, Hendersonville, and Murphy. Our service area includes 24 counties in western North Carolina, Carter and Johnson counties in eastern Tennessee, and Towns and Union counties in northern Georgia.


Prominent Tributaries and Features of Our River Basins

The Southern Blue Ridge is home to the forested headwaters, or sources, of several larger rivers. The French Broad, Watauga, Little Tennessee, Hiwassee, and New rivers start their stories in the Southern Blue Ridge and continue their journey to become the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. The Green River is a tributary that drains into the Broad River; both are technically on the outskirts of the Southern Appalachians and are the only rivers within MountainTrue’s region that drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

MountainTrue conducts water quality monitoring of the following rivers, streams, lakes, and popular recreation areas.

In the Broad River Basin:

  • Broad River (in North Carolina)
  • First Broad River
  • Rocky Broad River
  • Lake Lure
  • Moss Lake

In French Broad River Basin

  • French Broad River
  • Pigeon River
  • Big Laurel River
  • Swannanoa River

In the Green River Basin: 

  • Green River
  • Big Hungry River
  • Lake Adger

In the Hiwassee River Basin:

  • Hiwassee River
  • Hiwassee Lake
  • Nottely River
  • Valley River
  • Lake Chatuge
  • Lake Nottely
  • Fires Creek

In the Watauga River, New and Elk River Basins:

  • Watauga River
  • Watauga Lake
  • New River Headwaters
  • New River State Park
  • Elk River Falls
  • Price Lake
  • Wildcat Lake

In the Little Tennessee River Basin:

(COMING 2024!)

The Indigenous Peoples of Our River Basins

The river basins we sample are within the traditional lands of Indigenous Peoples and include the following territories:

Map courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Map courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Middle Tennessee - Hiwassee Basin: East Cherokee and Yuchi
Includes the Hiwassee and Valley River watersheds

Upper Tennessee Basin: East Cherokee, Shawanwaki/Shawnee, and Yuchi Includes the Little Tennessee Watershed

French Broad-Holston: East Cherokee, Moneton, and Yuchi
Includes the French Broad and Watauga River watersheds

Kanawha: East Cherokee, Yuchi, and Tutelo
Includes the New River Watershed

Broad: East Cherokee, Yuchi, and Catawba
Includes the Green and Broad River watersheds

Water is Critical to the Health and Vitality of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

A Uniquely Diverse Ecosystem

The Southern Blue Ridge Mountains are blessed with immense beauty and natural abundance. The range of habitat offered within our streams and rivers provides critical areas for the persistence of native aquatic species. This region's rivers are some of the most biologically diverse, with more freshwater fish, crayfish, freshwater mussels, and salamanders than anywhere else in the temperate world. This area is also home to many endemic species, meaning they are native to the region and exist nowhere else. Biological diversity and healthy aquatic ecosystems support processes like carbon sequestration, buffer climate change impacts, and protect the viability of various ecosystem services.

Because of high rates of endemism and limited ranges, wildlife in the Southern Appalachians is incredibly vulnerable to climatic shifts and changes to the landscape. Headwaters are connected to ecosystems downstream, and the loss and degradation of water quality threaten the biological integrity of entire river networks.

Endemic Species Spotlights

The Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), also known as water dog, mud puppy, devil dog, snot otter, or ol’ lasagna sides, is an elusive species of giant salamander endemic to the Southern Appalachian mountains. Fossil records for this species date back 160 million years, meaning these salamanders are a living part of Earth’s ancient history. The Eastern Hellbender is one of only three giant salamanders found in the world. Once common, they are now a rare sighting; Hellbenders are a state-listed species of concern in North Carolina and considered vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.

Photo courtesy of Tomas Ivasauskas

The Sicklefin Redhorse (Moxostoma spp.) is a type of sucker that was not recognized as a distinct fish species by the scientific community until 1992, yet Cherokee people had identified it by a unique name (“jungihtla”) for centuries. It is endemic to the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River basins and has historically been an important subsistence resource for the Cherokee. Populations of Sicklefin Redhorse are limited by the presence of dams and face threats from habitat loss and pollutants such as excess sediment. A collaborative partnership that includes federal and state agencies, energy companies, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and MountainTrue is working to conserve and expand the populations and habitat of the Sicklefin Redhorse and to raise awareness of the conditions that are causing the decline in its natural population.

(Photo courtesy of Dick Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Appalachian Elktoe (Alasmidonta raveneliana) is a freshwater mussel endemic to the upper Tennessee River system and is listed as endangered at both the federal and state levels. Freshwater bivalves are considered one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth, with 40% of species near threatened, threatened, or extinct. The decline of many of the native fish species across the region raises considerable concern about the persistence of these freshwater mussels. Population declines have been linked to changes in water quality, such as stream siltation, damming, pollution, and habitat loss.

A Thriving, Growing River Economy

The Southern Blue Ridge Mountains are renowned for their beautiful vistas and winding rivers, which are treasured by residents and attract vacationers looking to experience the great outdoors. Our mountains are a mecca for horseback riders, hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, hunters, fishermen, naturalists, and paddlers. The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests attract 5 million visitors per year. Great Smoky Mountain National Park — the most visited national park in the US — attracted more than 14 million visitors in 2021. Dupont State Recreational Forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties brings in another 1 million visitors. 

These outdoor enthusiasts spend money at local outfitters, restaurants, retailers, and hotels. Their dollars trickle through the economies of towns across our mountain regions, supporting thousands of business owners and employees. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis found that outdoor recreation generated $11.8 billion of economic activity in 2021 and supported more than 130,000 jobs in North Carolina. And that economic activity is growing; outdoor recreation spending in 2021 increased by 22.6% (above the national average of 21.7%). 

Many of those dollars are spent right here in the Southern Blue Ridge. The Outdoor Alliance estimates that paddlers, climbers, and mountain bikers visiting Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests generate $115 million in spending, with approximately $38 million coming from paddlers alone. Another study conducted for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission found that in 2014, mountain trout fishing contributed $383 million to North Carolina’s economy and supported nearly 3,593 jobs. The National Park Service estimates that visits to Great Smoky Mountain National Park created a cumulative $1.38 billion benefit to local economies and supported 14,000 jobs in 2020. 

Fly fishing

Economic Impact of Our Rivers

  • $11.8 billion - Economic Activity Generated by Outdoor Recreation in NC
    US Dept. of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis

  • $383 million - Mountain Trout Fishing’s Impact on NC’s Economy
    NC Wildlife Resources Commission

  • $38 million - Spending Generated by Paddlers Visiting Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests
    Outdoor Alliance