By Kent Wilcox
Friends of DuPont History Committee

The Great Continental Divide (aka Western Continental Divide) in the United States defines the boundary between lands where water flows in streams and rivers either to the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean. However, that boundary is an oversimplification of the watersheds in the United States. For example, most of Nevada and parts of Utah and neighboring states lie within a landlocked watershed called the Great Basin, where water has no route to flow to either the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. For a more precise delineation of watersheds, geologists and hydrologists have defined additional divides to distinguish watersheds for the Gulf of Mexico, Labrador Sea, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the watershed where rivers flow directly into the Atlantic Ocean, as shown on the accompanying map (Figure 1). 

Figure 1

Of particular importance to this article is the Eastern Continental Divide which defines the boundary between lands where water flows in streams and rivers either to the Gulf of Mexico or directly to the Atlantic Ocean. Prior to 2019, all of the land in DuPont State Recreational Forest (DSRF) was located west of the Eastern Continental Divide. Thus prior to 2019, water from all of the streams and rivers in DSRF eventually flowed via the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. That changed on February 12, 2019 when the NC Forest Service acquired 402 acres in the southern-most portions of Transylvania and Henderson Counties. The Transylvania/Henderson County line that runs through this 402 acre tract is precisely along the Eastern Continental Divide (Figure 2). Consequently, the approximately 115 acres of this 402 acre acquisition that are in Henderson County are in the watershed for the Atlantic Ocean. Streams in this 115 acre portion, such as the South Prong of the Green River, flow into the Green River, which flows east and joins the Broad River south of Hwy 74 in NC. The Broad River flows east and south, where it joins the Saluda River in Columbia, SC to create the Congaree River. The Congaree River flows southeast and at its confluence with the Wateree River just east of Congaree National Park creates the Santee River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean north of Charleston, SC. 

Figure 2

In 2020, the NC Forest Service acquired an additional 315 acres that are west of the 402 tract and entirely within Transylvania County (Figure 2). The southern boundary of part of this 315 acre tract is along the NC/SC state line, which in this section also defines the Eastern Continental Divide. Streams on the NC side of the state line, such as Reasonover Creek, Puncheon Creek, and Wildcat Creek (Figure 2) are part of the watershed for the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, the combined acquisition of 717 acres that has been named the Continental Divide tract includes 115 acres in the watershed for the Atlantic Ocean and 602 acres in the watershed for the Gulf of Mexico. 

The 717 acre acquisition includes multiple springs that are headwaters of several creeks and thus provides additional protection for the waters in Lake Julia, Cascade Lake and the Little River as well as Lake Summit, which is fed by the Green River. The mostly-forested land provides habitat for a diversity of plant and animal species including ferns, orchids, bears, deer, bobcats, and rattlesnakes. It shares boundaries with several thousand acres in other conservation lands, including Terra Nova, the Green River Preserve, YMCA Camp Greenville, and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area (Figure 3). The origins of this 717 acre Continental Divide tract are worthy of a separate article, especially since some of the original boundaries and corner markers have remained unchanged for 175 years.

Figure 3

Figure 1: Map of the continental divides in North America. Created by Pfly – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12131177

Figure 2: Map of the 402 and 315 acre tracts acquired by the NC Forest Service in 2019 and 2020. The red line is the approximate location for the Eastern Continental Divide. Modified from a map created by Conserving Carolina.

Figure 3: Conserved properties adjacent to the Continental Divide acquisitions as of 2021. Created by Jack Henderson. Reproduced with permission from Conserving Carolina.