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.
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.
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."