Little White Oak Mountain Polk Challenge

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Polk County enjoys a variety of topography seldom contained in such a small area, and the White Oak Mountains are the “jewel in the crown.”  They are visible to residents and visitors approaching from miles away.  From the top of these mountains, most of the county can be seen, as well as a large part of Upstate South Carolina, in addition to North Carolina as far as Charlotte, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and Mount Pisgah near Asheville. 

 Little White Oak Mountain, to the far east of the White Oak Mountain chain, is protected by the Green River Game Lands to the northwest and Conserving Carolina to the southeast.  The area protected by Conserving Carolina (formerly Pacolet Area Conservancy and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy) was purchased less than a year ago to protect the land from being developed as Foster Creek Preserve.  The purchase removed any prospect of building the approved development of nearly 700 residences in an area just over 1,000 acres on the southeast-facing slope of the mountain.   This purchase allowed Conserving Carolina to preserve and protect the county’s rural character, natural viewshed, the watershed of White Oak Creek, and rich native habitat containing a North Carolina Natural Heritage site with over 20 known rare and unique species to the state and nation; much of which would have been lost forever had the land been developed.   

 Rising more than 2,300 feet in elevation, Little White Oak Mountain can be seen from many vantage points within the county and beyond.  It is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains which began uplifting approximately 320 million years ago, when the tectonic plates that are now North America and Europe collided.  They are the second oldest mountains in the world, and at the time of their emergence, the Blue Ridge Mountains were among the highest in the world, reaching heights comparable to the Alps. Weathering and erosion over hundreds of millions of years have created the rugged ridges and rounded, weathered peaks that grace the landscape with spectacular mountain scenery today, as well as some of the world’s richest biological diversity. 

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 There is evidence of Native American inhabitance on the lower slopes and on the top of the White Oak Mountains, dating back 10,000 years, and they were a landmark for early explorers and settlers approaching from the Piedmont, in the Carolinas and Virginia. 

 In 1767, North Carolina’s Royal Governor, William Tryon, and Cherokee chief Ustenaka, agreed on a boundary line marking the western limit to European settlement into Cherokee lands.  That western frontier ran from the bank of the Reedy River, near Greenville, SC, to a point on White Oak Mountain, and onward along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Chiswell’s Lead Mines in southwestern Virginia.   The area was sure to have seen some Revolutionary War activity with its situation between the battlefields at Cowpens and King’s Mountain. 

 In the 1900’s, the White Oak Mountains became a popular destination for day hikers, riders, picnickers, and tourists.  Frank Stearns, of Cleveland, Ohio, established the Log Cabin Inn on the top of (Big) White Oak Mountain, above Shunkawauken Falls on Horse Creek, and the Inn housed the Stearns Post Office from 1903 to 1930.  In the 1930’s, Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, established a home at “The Narrows,” on the crest of (Big) White Oak Mountain, overlooking Columbus and Mill Spring. 

 Alan Leonard, a life-long resident and contributor toward the Little White Oak Mountain Polk Challenge states, “Little White Oak Mountain has been a part of life in Polk County since the earliest days.  I am pleased that this important landmark will be protected and saved for the use and enjoyment of future generations, and I’m delighted that I have had a part in protecting it.” 

 Please consider donating to the Little White Oak Mountain Polk Challenge $400K; the gift of a lifetime of community benefits.  A generous bequest allows every donation toward this project to be matched dollar for dollar, $129,000 of the $400K to be raised from Polk County residents remains.  Together, we will leave a legacy and preserve our Little White Oak Mountain – dramatic views, rare species, clean water, wildlife habitats, outdoor recreation opportunities and housing for young families. 

Tax-deductible donations, of any amount in the form of cash or appreciated stock, to Conserving Carolina’s Little White Oak Mountain Polk Challenge $400K can be mailed to Conserving Carolina at 847 Case Street, Hendersonville, NC 28792, by calling 828-697-5777, or online with a credit card at 

 Written by Alan Leonard and Pam Torlina