Cullowhee Creek flows north through Jackson County in the southwestern portion of North Carolina. It is a significant water resource for the county. Cullowhee Creek flows into the Tuckasegee River, which flows into the Tennessee River and finally the Mississippi River before entering the Gulf of Mexico. The watershed runs through the campus of Western Carolina University. The creek is regarded as a major educational feature of the campus and provides an excellent opportunity for research with maximum student involvement. The main tributaries are Tilley Creek and Long Branch. The watershed, including its sub-watershed, covers 15,062 acres or 23.53 mi ² of steep, mountainous terrain.
Elevation and Slope
Elevations in the watershed range from ˜ 4600' to ˜ 2080' on the floodplains. Slopes near the headwaters of Cullowhee Creek can reach over 30% and along the stream valleys they average less than 8%.
Climate, Temperature, and Precipitation Averages
The climate is humid subtropical with mild summers and cold winters. The average temperature for the year within the watershed if 55.6 °F. Annual precipitation in the basin varies between 1270mm at WCU to 1780mm in the headwaters. As one would expect, precipitation generally increases with elevation. Precipitation in the warm seasons is a combination of convectional (including thunderstorms) and frontal, whereas in the cold season nearly all precipitation is frontal. Although precipitation is well distributed throughout the year, minor peaks occur in late fall to early winter and in the spring. Snowfall averages 25cm in the lower valleys to 75cm in the headwaters.
The Cullowhee Creek watershed lies within the eastern Blue Ridge Province, which is delineated in the east by the Hayesville Fault and in the west by the Brevard Fault Zone. This region has been shaped to varying degrees by three separate orogenic events: the Taconic, Acadian, and Alleghanian. The rocks of the watershed consist largely of metamorphic gneisses and schists. It is not uncommon to find some metagraywackes scattered about. Aluminosilicates are quite common and there is some evidence of migmatitic rocks. The dominant minerals in this location are quartz, feldspar, muscovite, biotite, and garnet. The soils range from deep to moderately deep well-drained soils to sand, gravel, and cobbles in the floodplains. Saprolite is common in the low-lying portions of the basin.
Nature American History
Though exact dates are not known, evidence for Native American occupation in the southern Appalachians could go back as far as 12,000 years. The Cherokee have left a lasting impact in this area, which is evident in some of the place names that they have given. Cullowhee was named for an edible plant that they gathered during the spring. The Cherokee settled in locations all along the Tuckaseegee River and its major tributaries. It has been estimated that the Cherokee culture in this area predates other settlers by approximately 500 years.
Land Use Past and Present
Stream orders 1st 29, 2nd 7, 3rd 2 Cullowhee Creek is a 4th order stream