Jason Boles clears a jump on a trail in the U.S. Forest Service's Locust Stake ATV area in Habersham County, Ga. Off-road-vehicle users are having a harder time finding a place to enjoy their sport.

Off-road vehicle enthusiasts look for room to rev engines

By Debbie Gilbert
The Times
Like rock climbers and canoeists, off-road-vehicle users have a hard time finding places to practice their sport. But unlike other forms of outdoor recreation, ORV riding can cause substantial environmental damage if not done responsibly.

The 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest has 14 areas set aside for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, commonly known as ATVs or four-wheelers. But only one of those areas, 2,800-acre Beasley Knob near Blairsville, is open to full-size four-wheel-drive vehicles such as pickup trucks and Jeeps.

"Beasley Knob is overused because there is such a demand for this sport," said Kerry VanderPool, president of the Georgia Bounty Runners, an ORV club that represents about 55 families in North Georgia. "There's definitely a need for more places for these people to ride."

But John Petrick, forest planner for the U.S. Forest Service in Gainesville, Ga. isn't sure the Chattahoochee is the right place.

"On a sliding scale of destruction, those vehicles are just about at the top," he said. "I'm not sure if, in the long run, they can continue to use such huge vehicles there, because of soil and water concerns."

Forest planners have been working on a long-range management plan for the Chattahoochee that will determine how the land is used in the future. A draft of the plan is expected by December.

The Forest Service used to have general areas designated for ATV/ORV use. But because of erosion problems, many of those areas were closed and rehabilitated, and now users may ride only on official trails.

Many riders ignore the policy, however. "If the trails aren't sufficiently challenging, they're going to go off in other directions," said Clint Crites, also a member of the Georgia Bounty Runners.

His club has adopted the Beasley Knob trails and conducts regular work weekends to repair environmental damage. The Georgia Recreational Trail Riders Association, which represents more than 300 motorcycle and ATV users, also does extensive rehabilitation work on forest trails.

"The guys who belong to these groups do work with us and they do care about the trails," said Petrick. "But a lot of the illegal users aren't members of these groups."

The president of Georgia Recreational Trail Riders, Mike Kavula, has attended some of the Forest Service planning meetings and hopes new ATV areas will be designated to handle the influx of newcomers into the sport. At the very least, he wants to keep the trails that already exist.

"There has been an increase in privately owned areas for riding, but most are in Middle and South Georgia," he said.

See also:
Access denied: Owners, users spar over land
Climbers clamor for access to Yonah Mounain's facade
Atlanta man buys 230-acre West Fork of the Chattooga River tract
Despite support, skate park plan still stalled

Dan Washburn is a sports writer for The Times in Gainesville, Ga.
Copyright © 2000 by The Times