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The Real Tragedy of Tellico

Editorial by Jay Bird,
Past President SFWDA and Current Chairman of SFWDA Rescue Tellico
Associated Image
The author's rig at the "Winter Madness" event in Tellico. This annual event will never take place again because of the recent closure.

In a recent article in the Cherokee Scout, Steve Lohr of the U.S. Forest Service stated the Southern Four Wheel Drive and other associations feel like they were kicked in the face with the closure of the trails in Tellico. The truth is, the OHV community IS being kicked in the face, and it isn't just the OHV enthusiasts feeling the pain. The closure of the trails in Tellico carries a price tag of $4.8 million in lost OHV revenue and generates ZERO in tourism revenue for the surrounding communities.

The real tragedy is that it doesn't have to be this way. It is not an either/or decision, as the Forest Service wants the public to believe. Moreover, the course of action the Forest Service has chosen will not resolve the issues at Tellico.

Closure is not management. It is not the use of the trails in Tellico that is or has ever been the challenge and that fact is fundamentally where the Forest Service has this decision all wrong. It is that by the very existence of the trails, any trails, motorized or non-motorized, they must either have proper erosion controls implemented and maintained or they must be completely obliterated and rehabilitated. The Forest Service failed in their management in the past and now, their decision to simply close the trail system does not fix the problems.

The fact is, the Forest Service pre-determined to close Tellico well over a year ago and then spent who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars justifying their decision in an effort that makes a sham of the public process.

All of these decisions came on the heels of a threat from Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) to sue the Forest Service for not properly managing the OHV trail system. Trout Unlimited insisted publicly that was never the intent to close the Tellico trail system. In a release dated March 3, 2009, Squeak Smith, spokesperson from North Carolina Trout Unlimited, stated, "It was never North Carolina TU's intent to seek closure of the Tellico OHV trail system. For the past 10 years all we ever asked the Forest Service to do was follow their own regulations."

That at least sounds reasonable. So, in response, the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA) engaged the services of Caliber Engineering Consultants to do an independent scientific study on the area. The final product consisted of a workable Trail System Repair and Maintenance Plan complete with 280 pages of scientific supplements and details.

Additionally, SFWDA, and others, identified a recently-commissioned study by the Forest Service of their own Trails Unlimited Team. Similar to the Caliber Report, the Trails Unlimited Report outlined proper management steps to sustainably repair and maintain the OHV Trail System in Upper Tellico. The Forest Service quickly and summarily disregarded both reports. Sadly, it appears as if the Forest Service had already made up its mind. Months before the environmental analysis was completed, Forest Supervisor Marisue Hilliard made very public statements that her preference was to close the trails.

The recreating groups do not want the trails closed, the fishing group says they never intended for the trails to be closed, the local communities shouldn't have to pay the price in lost revenue, and the environment shouldn't have to pay the price for a closure plan that does not address the real issues. Year after year the OHV community tried to get the Forest Service to follow their own management plans, utilize their volunteer services, and properly spend funding--much from outside sources--to manage the Tellico Trail System. The Forest Service failed to do that and now needs to rethink their decision, fess up to their shortcoming, and come up with a workable management plan that includes trails. Until that happens, this fight is far from over.

NOTE: A copy of the Tellico appeal can be viewed on the world wide web at

--Questions or comments regarding this article should be directed to the BlueRibbon Coalition: Phone: 208-237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: .

June 1, 2016 3:10 PM

POCATELLO, ID (June 1, 2016) – Coalition (BRC) is pleased to reveal that its long-time partner in the fight to protect recreational access, Rocky Mountain ATV-MC (RMATV-MC), has agreed once again to generously match each dollar* raised to support BRC at the upcoming annual COW TAG event hosted by Klim, another long-time partner for access.

April 26, 2016 9:54 AM

POCATELLO, ID (April 26, 2016) -- Coalition (BRC) is pleased to announce the recent release of issue #4 of the BlueRibbon Magazine. This issue is packed with outstanding winter articles and a variety of recreation topics.

Hard copies of the BlueRibbon Magazine should be arriving at doorsteps this week (if they have not already arrived). If your copy has not yet arrived, there's no need to wait! The digital edition of the BlueRibbon Magazine is available today, in FlipZine or PDF versions.

April 13, 2016 10:04 AM

It's time once again for the annual COW TAG event! Please join KLIM and the Sharetrails/BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) at this one-of-a-kind ride to be held on Saturday, June 25 at Kelly Canyon, ID. Proceeds benefit trail organizations and Sharetrails/BRC. Enter to win a 2016 Beta 300RR Race Edition!...

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