The following is directly from a Forest Service News Release. Beth Christensen, District Ranger, Eastern Divide Ranger District 540-552-4641
Catawba, August 21, 2023 – The U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club announce a new effort to protect water quality, ecological integrity, and a rare species adjacent to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail in Craig County.
Special Biological Areas identified in the Jefferson National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan have specific management prescriptions and protections. This Special Biological Area encompasses the Dragon’s Tooth Trail and the Boy Scout Trail within the Jefferson National Forest, from the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot to the Appalachian Trail.
Visitors are asked to stay on the marked trail and camping is prohibited along these trails. Volunteers have posted signs directing visitors to stay on the marked trail and have roped off areas where vegetation needs to occur. Backpackers looking for a place to camp can continue to the Appalachian Trail where appropriate sites are available.
Beth Christensen, District Ranger on the Eastern Divide Ranger District, stated, “Forest visitors can help us save this unique ecosystem and promote its recovery. At first glance, areas adjacent to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail may look like many other places on the national forest and seem like a convenient place to camp. However, in the past year alone, the area impacted by camping has expanded by 10,000 square feet – trampling pirate bush and other species it needs to survive. By simply staying on the trail or hiking a little farther away from the stream to find a campsite, visitors can help improve this plant population.”
Alternative dispersed camping options include Lost Spectacles Gap, 1.5 miles from the parking area and 0.9 miles from Dragon’s Tooth at the junction of the Dragons Tooth Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Dispersed camping along the Appalachian Trail is permitted on National Forest lands.
“We appreciate the cooperation of all visitors in protecting this beloved area,” stated Tom McAvoy, Conservation Supervisor with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. “RATC volunteers are working hard to re-vegetate this sensitive area by clearly marking it, and educating the public about why this place is so special. With everyone’s help, we can ensure the longevity of the Dragon’s Tooth ecosystem for generations to come.”
Only one percent of the Jefferson National Forest is designated as Special Biological Areas, a classification given to the most unique and fragile ecosystems in the Forest. The Dragon’s Tooth Special Biological Area protects pirate bush, a rare native plant that can only be found in a handful of areas in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
Pirate bush, a parasitic shrub, can only survive in a specific, delicately balanced habitat. Due to the popularity of the Dragon’s Tooth hike, increasing camping impacts have severely threatened this rare plant and their population is dwindling. The soil compaction and vegetation loss impacting its habitat has also led to sedimentation and pollution of nearby streams. Several other uncommon plants grow here and by protecting the pirate bush these other species will also be protected.