In this column I try to look at the positive side and talk about all of the great off-road riding opportunities we still have in East Tennessee. I try not to dwell on what has been lost over the years. However, when you talk to men who rode in the '70s and early '80s, you become aware of how much has been lost as they tell stories of riding at places like Haw Ridge, Bluff Mountain, and Tellico (in the Cherokee National Forest). Hearing how many riding areas no longer exist emphasizes how important it is to keep what we have left.
While many areas have been lost to development, the trails in the Cherokee National Forest have just been gradually closed over the years for one reason or another. Policy changes, perceived environmental issues, anti-OHV groups, it really doesn't matter now. Despite having hundreds of thousands of acres of Tennessee wilderness, there are precious few areas where you can trail ride on the Tennessee side of the Cherokee National Forrest.
When you hear people talk about the old Tellico riding area, they are talking about riding the trails on the North Carolina side of the state line. In fact, if you were camping in the State Line Campground, and you weren't on a street-legal bike, you would get a ticket in Tennessee if they caught you riding your bike the hundred or so yards to the state line. You had to push your non-running dirt bike from your campsite until you got across the creek, and into North Carolina.
Mike Dozier, owner of Tellico Motorcycle Outfitters, is leading the effort to keep open the last two motorcycle trails on the Tennessee side of the mountain. Trails #81 and #82 are motorcycle single-track trails that are still open to licensed, off–road motorcycles. That means that you must be street legal (aka dual-sport).
"We have officially adopted these two trails with the Forestry Service," Mike told me. "To do this we had to fill out pages of paperwork for each trail, submit it to the Forestry Service, and then go to a class where we could become ‘Certified' to use chainsaws on Forest Service land. We jumped through a lot of hoops, but now these trails are officially ours."
One bit of interesting information Mike shared with me was this: The Forest Service does no trail maintenance in the National Forest. If it's a horse trail, it's up to the equestrian clubs to take care of it. If it's a dirt-bike trail, it's up to the dirt-bike clubs to take care of it. This is really an ingenious way for the Forestry Department to justify closing trails, because once they fall into such disrepair that they can't be ridden, or create a water-quality issue, they simply close them with no intention of opening them again.
Mr. Dozier doesn't plan to let this happen with trails #81 and #82. "Sometime in September, we haven't picked the exact date yet, we are going to have a trail workday sponsored by our shop," he said. "We're going to supply all of the volunteers with lunch, and give them a T-shirt. We'll run the chainsaws, all we need it people on the ground to help out."
If you would be interested in helping save the few remaining trails in the Tennessee side of the Cherokee National Forrest, contact Mike Dozier at 423-253-2088. Or better yet, stop by Tellico Mountain Outfitters in downtown Tellico (www.tellicomoto.com). Mike said that they will announce the date for the workday soon.
Let's do what we can to keep what we have.
Russ Townsend has been riding on and off road motorcycles for over 25 years. He has been active in promoting new legislation for OHV users, is a lifetime AMA member, former racer, and current Secretary of the Volunteer Riders dirt-bike club.