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Upper Tellico Is The Premiere ORV Area In The East

Posted in Events on November 1, 1998
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Volunteering Wheelers Keep It In Shape
In 1986, the 8,000-acre Upper Tellico ORV Area, located in the Tusquitee Ranger District of North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest, was caught in the tumult created by the development of a 15-year management plan for the Nantahala. These Southern Appalachian mountains are noted for their copious rainfall, abundant creeks and streams, and steep slopes. These characteristics add up to a recipe for potential environmental damage by erosion and stream-clogging sediment. The area was crisscrossed with logging trails and skid roads with steep grades, with many leading directly into streams such as the Tellico River. Rain also washed untold amounts of soil into the streams.

Volunteers have constructed a dozen or more bridges over the past decade to protect stream crossings from vehicles in the Upper Tellico ORV Area.

Because of this network of "trails," the area became increasingly popular with off-roaders, both organized and unorganized. According to Charles Miller, Tusquitee distric ranger, this use compounded the damage to the resources-both land and water. The Forest Service simply did not have the budget to manage the area and repair all existing damage to prevent future problems.

Closing the forest to off-road use as part of the new management plan was the answer for environmental groups. In response to the area's damage and both interested parties, the concept of a Forest Service partnership with organized 4WD groups was born to properly repair and manage the area. The damage also contributed to the birth of a new regional umbrella organization-the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association-to provide the focal point for the clubs' volunteer efforts here and elsewhere, and to establish an organized southern voice for off-roading as a legitimate recreational pursuit.

Since then, volunteers from various member clubs have provided thousands of hours of volunteer work, materials, and equipment. To prove their abilities and commitment, association members first constructed a new group camping area (McNabb) in the Cherokee National Forest on the Tennessee side of the state line, not far from the ORV area.

Charles estimates that volunteers have constructed more than 1,000 water bars on the remaining 40 miles of open trails. The water bars-soil that is mounded at angles across the trails-direct rainfall off of the trails and into the woods before the water can gain enough force to begin eroding the trail.

Four-wheel-drive club members affiliated with the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association and other such volunteers have annually contributed an estimated $50,000 in labor, material, and machinery to ensure proper maintenance of the Upper Tellico ORV Area.

Volunteers have helped construct silt traps or settling basins, which prevent the water from carrying mud into the drains from the trails.

"Our goal is to prevent the soil from leaving the local site," says Charles. "That's the key. We have to keep the soil in place and out of the streams." Association volunteers also have donated materials and constructed bridges to keep vehicles out of streams. Recently they finished a large gravel parking lot and unloading area with a kiosk that is used to provide information about the area.

Larry Fox , ORV area manager, says: "If it weren't for the volunteers, this area wouldn't be open. When these clubs have a run, it's the least of my worries. The biggest problem is people cutting illegal trails. That's the kind of thing that will close the area."

Greg Griffith, of the Dixie Four Wheelers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is the association's land use director for the Upper Tellico. "We probably average $50,000 a year in donated materials and labor, and we have a fantastic relationship with the government," says Greg. "We trust them, and they trust us." Gunnar Byrd owns a construction company, and is an example of what helps make the arrangement work and keep Upper Tellico open. Gunnar lives 30 miles south of Birmingham and started riding the Upper Tellico in the mid '80s. When the controversy over the ORV area blossomed, he offered his dozer for the necessary heavy-equipment work. Gunnar has helped close trails, built trails from scratch, pushed up water bars, and constructed bridges. "We've even opened trails and then closed them because they didn't work well," says Gunnar, who donates about $5,000 of volunteer work each year. "It took me a while to learn it, but they [liaisons with government officials] are as important as the folks with pick and shovel," says Gunnar

Club volunteers provide heavy equipment, which is used for everything from loading and spreading gravel to building bridges, pushing up water bars, closing roads, and providing perches from which to down damaged trees.

Charles says he always tries to highlight the fact that it was the 4WD community that closed half the trails and seeded them with grass. "We (the Forest Service) didn't have the dollars, the people, or the equipment to close those 40 miles."

Charles also says that the Upper Tellico ORV Area is the only Forest Service project he knows of that continues to generate letters of appreciation from users year after year. "The letters just keep coming," says Charles. "There's nothing else that gets that reaction."

Upper Tellico Trails
Upper Tellico features a dozen designated riding trails, one of which, 3.7-mile Trail #10, is for ATVs only because of its width. The trail system provides interconnected loops with no dead-end routes, and the trails range from "Easiest," to "More Difficult," to "Most Difficult."

At the Upper Tellico ORV Area there is no discrimination in age or gender when it comes to getting the job done.

The easiest trails, including Trail #1 and Trail #4, have gentle grades not exceeding 15-percent, wide turns and few, if any, obstacles. More difficult trails include #2, #3, #5, #7, and #8 (although #7 was impassable during the October '97, Dixie Roundup). These trails have a 30-percent maximum pitch, more and tighter curves, climbing turns, sections of rough surface, and some rock or log obstacles.

Most difficult trails include #6, #9, #11, and #12, and require a high degree of skill. Grades are up to 50 percent, and there are numerous turns, tight curves, and switchbacks, with frequent obstacles.

A designated "no alcohol" area, Upper Tellico hosts from 8 to 12 organized off-road events each year, including the Dixie Run, a fundraiser for the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association.

For more information about the Upper Tellico and the Nantahala National Forest, contact Charles Miller or Larry Fox at 704/837-5152, or write the U.S. Forest Service, Dept. Jp, 201 Woodland Dr., Murphy, NC 28906. For information on the Cherokee National Forest and camping on the Tennessee side of the state line, call the Tellico Ranger District at 423/253-2520.

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