Friends Of Uwharrie – A Short History
By John Craven
According to geologists, the Uwharrie Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. As one of the oldest ranges, the Uwharries have more archaeological sites per acre than any other forest in the southeast. While dinosaurs may have roamed those 20,000-foot summits, the Uwharries remain. The same forces of erosion that wore the Appalachians down from their former Rocky-Mountain-like heights also took their toll on the Uwharries, which now top out at 1,100 feet.
The Uwharries, prior to becoming a national forest in 1961 by decree of President John F. Kennedy, were used for hunting, gold mining, timber and farming. All of those activities left a system of roads and trails throughout the forest which continued to be used by recreationists after the Uwharries were name a National Forest. Motorcycles, trucks and early 4wd vehicles accessed the forest for many purposes. With the advent of the ATV in the early 70’s usage of the forest increased.
In the late 70s and early 80s, motorcycle clubs, notably NC Trailriders, under the leadership of John Worsley, were using the forest trail system and developing and maintaining new trails. At this time Scott Fields was living on Badin Lake and as an active outdoorsman, Scott was an active user of Uwharrie National Forest. Scott was an ATV owner who frequently rode the Forest Service roads and hunting trails in the Uwharries. As a “local” Scott became friends with John Worsley and NC Trailriders. Scott would use his Honda Foreman ATV to serve as a pack mule for the motorcycle club as they performed their trail work carrying chainsaws, axes, gas cans and other equipment the motorcycle riders couldn’t carry.
In 1982 Scott purchased a “79 Dodge Power Wagon. This vehicle was capable of carrying much more trail development equipment and Scott’s role in developing the Uwharrie trail system increased as well. At about this same time Forest Service personnel and motorcycle club leadership began to have issues over the trail system usage and maintenance. Legal motorcycle access was even suspended for a short period between 1982 and 1984. It was at this time that Scott began to have a vision to incorporate the off road trails into a Forest Service operation that would serve the full size OHV users in addition to the motorcycles and three wheeler ATVs that were using the trail system. In 1984 the trail system was reopened for all motor usage and was being used by motorcycles, ATVs and full size 4wd vehicles which were becoming very popular.
During this same period of time, 1982-1986, a 4wd event called the Smoky Mountain Trek was being held in the Nantahala National Forest area called Tellico. With the proliferation of full size 4wd usage, the event began to grow beyond its bounds, and the need developed for a recreationist advocacy group to work with the Forest Service in maintaining the trail system.
In the spring of 1987 a new organization was formed to be an advocate for the many individual and club 4wd enthusiasts in the southeast United States. This association was formed as the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association. The inaugural meeting took place in Gatlingburgh, TN. Among the attendees was Scott Fields, a member of the Carolina Trail Blazers 4wd Club, Inc. Scott is a charter member of SFWDA as is the CTB club.
Through his contacts with local enthusiasts, Forest Service personnel and SFWDA leadership, Scott brokered a deal whereby SFWDA would assist the Forest Service in developing an OHV system in the forest which would bring to fruition his vision of a multi-user trail system.
Several of SFWDA’s leaders at that time were experienced heavy machinery operators and Scott recruited their services in operating the machinery that modified the single track trails into something suitable for full size 4wd vehicles. Gunnar Byrd, 2011-2013 SFWDA president, and Griff Shirley were the men on the machines during this phase of the Uwharrie OHV trail system development.
As with many Forest Service programs, the participation of the general public, especially sport specific enthusiasts, was a key to maintaining the new OHV trails. As Scott’s vision began to take shape, the need for someone to coordinate volunteer efforts in this maintenance was self evident. As a resident of the area, an enthusiast and visionary of the project, Scott was the logical choice, and so began his 16 year run as OHV volunteer coordinator for the Uwharrie OHV trail system.
In the mid 2000s Scott suffered some business problems which forced him to curtail his OHV volunteer activities and move away from the Uwharie area. The OHV volunteer coordinator position passed through several people and as participation and communication between the coordinators and the Forest Service declined the Forest Service decided to began using an Adpot-A-Trail Partner program. Instead of having a volunteer coordinator that would work with the various clubs and individuals, clubs would adopt a specific trail to maintain in the Uwharrie OHV system and the Forest Service personnel would coordinate with club leadership.
In February 2009 I, John Craven, took a concealed carry class in Raleigh. Among the participants were Mike Yager and Kevin Michael, who were moderators on the NC4x4 internet forum. At one point our discussion got on the 4wd subject, the Tellico issue and of course Uwharrie. Mike, a long time volunteer on the Uwharrie OHV trails, was concerned that the lack of participation in and coordination of the Forest Service workdays was detrimental to the long term sustainability of the system. As a user of the Forest in several recreation pursuits, he was also concerned that the various user groups seemed to be antagonistic instead of working as a whole to better the Uwharrie experience for all users. Mike’s vision was a Friends Of Uwharrie organization that would try to bring the Uwharrie OHV volunteer efforts of the various clubs and individuals under one umbrella to stabilize deteriorating participation and foster better long range planning and communication. A secondary goal was to try to bring volunteers from different user groups together on projects of common good. Friends Of Uwharrie was born, but it would take awhile for it to grow!
On November 23, 2009 NC4x4 and CTB member Chris Irving posted a thread about his idea for a NC4x4 sponsored trail clean up day. Discussion on the forum led to a NC4x4 sponsored clean up day which was held December 12, 2009 at the Uwharrie OHV trails and December 13, 2009 at the Brown Mountain OHV trials. Both events were well attended and a significant amount of trash was collected from the trails. This event showed that the virtual world of the internet, and NC4x4 in particular, could be a useful tool for mobilizing volunteers for OHV trail work.
On December 14, 2009 NC4x4 member Eli Pupavatz posted a thread proposing that the NC4x4 community organize for the purpose of performing off season trail work on the Uwharrie OHV trail system during the 2009-2010 winter closure. Discussion of this possibility, generosity of several members and hard work by Eli concluded with the NC4x4 community participating in the March 27, 2010 Forest Service off season workday. With Eli’s coordination and communication the workday was well attended by NC4x4 members as they joined the Adopt-A-Trail partner clubs in their regularly scheduled off season maintenance.
Encouraged by the turnout of the NC4x4 membership for the Forest Service workdays, Mike Yager felt that Friends Of Uwharrie might be ready to take off. In June of 2010 he registered several internet domain names related to the Friends Of Uwharrie idea, including www.friendsofuwharrie.org.
There appears to be some confusion as to how the next stage in the development of Friends Of Uwharrie occurred. From the perspective of the NC4x4 ownership and administration, NC4x4 was moving ahead with Mike Yager’s 2009 vision of Friends Of Uwharrie. NC4x4 members, with Eli Pupavatz’ coordination were attending Forest service workdays, donating time, money and equipment toward maintenance of the Uwharrie OHV system. Eli, using the NC4x4 forum as a vehicle for communication was taking on the role of NC4x4 volunteer coordinator for the Uwharrie OHV system, under the direction of the NC4x4 ownership and administration. As I understand Eli’s position, from personal emails, phone calls and from his posts on NC4x4, he viewed the volunteer effort he coordinated more as his idea and under his direction. Be that as it may, an uneasy truce ensued for the next two years as Eli continued to coordinate the NC4x4 volunteers in their work on the Uwharrie OHV trail system.
On February 22, 2012, another effort was made to grow the Friends Of Uwharrie idea in a more organized and legal manner. NC4x4 ownership created a private sub forum on NC4x4 to facilitate discussion among those members who were actively working with the Forest Service to provide volunteers for Uwharrie OHV trail system maintenance. At that time NC4x4 owners Shawn and Cydney Clemons, Eli Pupavatz , Scott Fields, Mike Yager, SFWDA Uwharrie liaison John Craven and NAXJA representative Glenn Fulmer were invited to the discussion. After a nice start, which produced a mission statement, discussion tailed off with the last post occurring on February 29, 2012. Circumstances such as Mike’s March 2012 stroke, Eli’s work situation, Scott’s business demands and Shawn and Cydney’s family situation conspired to curtail further development of Friends Of Uwharrie.
On July 3, 2012, Scott Fields made the last post in the Friends Of Uwharrie Directors forum, a desperate request for someone in the discussion to take the reins in driving Friends Of Uwharrie to success. Despite the seeming hurdles in getting Friends Of Uwharrie to fly, Scott was once again active in the Uwharrie National Forest community having started his Uwharrie Off Road Training Center. He was meeting with Montgomery County officials, private land owners and Forest Service personnel in an effort to bring together a coalition of interested parties to develop more OHV recreation opportunities in the Uwharrie area.
In October 2012 Scott Fields hosted the Uwharrie Fall OHV Jamboree on his UORTC property in Uwharrie. During this event $400 was donated to Friends Of Uwharrie for the purpose of developing the organization and furthering its goals. But there was no actual Friends Of Uwharrie to accept the money! With the threat of malfeasance hanging over his head, Scott took the bull by the horns. With the consent of NC4x4 ownership, Friends Of Uwharrie was incorporated, as a non-profit organization, with the state of North Carolina on November 7, 2012, with the initial Directors consisting of Mike Yager, Scott Fields and Marla Coulthard, an Eldorado, NC resident, outspoken supporter of OHV use and a consultant to non-profit organizations. Then a federal tax i.d. number was obtained and a bank account opened in the amount of $900 thanks to a generous $500 donation by the Carolina Trail Blazers 4wd Club, Inc. Federal IRS 501c3 paperwork has been filled out and is awaiting a pro bono legal perusal prior to being filed. By-laws and a Conflict Of Interest policy have been accepted and Friends Of Uwharrie is now a registered, legal non-profit, organized for the promotion, development and maintenance of outdoor recreation in the Uwharrie National Forest area.
Our goals center on continuing to provide manpower, money and equipment for the maintaining of the Uwharrie OHV trail system. Long term goals center on bringing together the disparate recreationist interests in the Uwharrie National Forest area under one advocacy umbrella.
Our goal is to provide Uwharrie National Forest visitors, principally OHV users, with one voice in their quest for sustainable outdoor recreation. Friends Of Uwharrie wants to be YOUR voice in Uwharrie National Forest. Through a policy of complete honesty, openness and transparency we hope to continue to have YOUR support!