Defending their turf

Four-wheel drive enthusiasts are prepared to defend their use of the Tellico Off-Road Area in the Graham County section of the Nantahala National Forest.

“There are very few places for full-size four-wheel drives,” said Heather Spivey, spokesperson for the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association. Spivey could count on one hand the number of four-wheel drive recreation areas within a day’s drive. Of those very few, Tellico is the most famous and most popular, she said.

“Tellico is very well known in the four-wheel drive community. It really is the best four-wheel drive terrain on the east coast,” Spivey said. “Some people will come from as far as Texas.”

That popularity contributes to the local economy around Tellico, Spivey said.

“There are number of businesses that rely solely on the (off-road) community for their livelihood and if those trails were to go away it would completely shut them down,” Spivey said.

Those unfamiliar with the sport likely have the wrong impression about it, Spivey said. It’s sometimes called rock crawling.

“We joke that it is the most excitement and fun you can have at two miles an hour,” Spivey said. “It is not about speed or tearing things up. It is a technical challenge. Can you as a driver use your skill to maneuver your vehicle over obstacles? It is about knowing your machine and your vehicle and what it is going to do and where your wheels are.”

While that might be the case for full-size, four-wheel drive vehicles, Tellico is also crawling with ATVs — the small vehicles that look like a cross between a riding mower and golf cart built for the woods. Lighter and quicker, some ATVs users are simply looking to rev along a trail through the woods at high speeds.

Spivey said most four-wheel drive enthusiasts enjoy being outdoors first and foremost. They also respect nature.

“If I believed the sport I participated in was harming the environment to the point it was having permanent damage, I wouldn’t do it,” said Spivey, an environmental consultant by profession and botany major.

— Becky Johnson

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