Whether you’re rebuilding an old motorcycle or an old motorcycle trail, great things can happen with the right tools and a positive attitude. Just ask Nick Wagner and Hal Gooding, co-founders of a new OHV club in South Carolina called the Coastal Off-Road Riders Association (CORRA).
Two summers ago, Wagner and Gooding were riding their dirt bikes on the Wambaw Cycle Trail in Francis Marion National Forest. They noticed that regular maintenance was lacking throughout the 40-mile system. Even the kids were having a hard time, going 100 yards in the deep sugar sand, falling two or three times, then dropping their bikes and walking away in frustration.
Wagner and Gooding knew the Forest Service was hurting for funds and that lack of funding sometimes leads to trail closures. “We looked at each other and said someone needs to do something about this,” said Wagner. “We looked around, didn’t see anyone else, and decided it had to be us.”
Both Wagner and Gooding belonged to other OHV organizations, but had never started a club. They talked to Randy Kornegay, a newly hired recreation technician at Francis Marion National Forest. They discovered that Kornegay was as enthused about improving the trail system as they were. He told them to look into the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC).
“Before we found NOHVCC, it was one of those things, we thought gosh this is going to be a lot of work. We don’t know how to start a club and get it going,” Wagner said. “I looked up NOHVCC on the computer, and immediately called Hal. I said, ‘Hal you aren’t going to believe this, they have a start-up kit. I just downloaded it.’ We used that template from start to finish. It had what we needed to put together our first meeting, how to do newsletters, everything.”
Over the next few months, Wagner and Gooding completed the paperwork to start a non-profit organization, and created CORRA. In January of 2011, they held their first meeting at Charleston Powersports in North Charleston. It was standing-room only as 75 people showed up, many joining the club that day.
Not long after, the new club had its first meeting with the Forest Service to talk about trail issues in Francis Marion National Forest. Once again, they put their NOHVCC tools to work. “We could have gone in there and said we want to do this and this, and rattle off a list of demands,” said Wagner. “Instead, we went into it and just basically said we’re here to help. We just want to help you maintain the trails, keep them in better shape and have a place to ride. That got us a much better reception, and it just opened the door to everything.”
The Forest Service agrees that Wagner’s positive attitude made all the difference. “I wasn’t really looking forward to meeting with them,” said Jannah DuPre, Recreation Program Manager. “But the minute we sat down and started talking, I just totally flip-flopped. I said this is great, this has potential and possibilities. They came into that meeting with a positive attitude versus a hostile, angry, blaming you kind of thing. That really opened up avenues for everybody.”
DuPre said CORRA contributed thousands of volunteer hours to trail maintenance in its first year. Equally impressive is the club’s energy and open-mindedness. “The partnership has been great. It’s been energizing to work with a group of people that are willing to sit down and see the bigger picture of OHV trail management from a public land management point of view and not just a rider-user point of view,” DuPre said. “Their energy is marvelous. And it’s been real helpful for the riders to know why we have certain rules and regulations.”
The club and Forest Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and set up quarterly meetings to talk about ideas. Once they had proven themselves by helping with trail maintenance, the club presented the Forest Service with the idea of building a beginner’s loop. “Here in Charleston, we have deep sandy soil, sugar sand,” said Wagner. “With a 50 cc motorcycle it’s almost impossible to get through it without falling over. We came back to them and said we need something with harder clay, where beginners can learn on a flat surface. Then when they get into a bigger bike, they can go out on the trail and have fun.”
The Forest Service agreed. It applied for and received a Recreation Trails Program (RTP) grant, $25,000 of which went to build a 0.4 mile loop for new riders. Using 100% volunteer labor and rented equipment, the club removed sand and replaced it with clay, creating a harder surface, higher than the ground around it, with some smooth berms. “They identified it as a need out there,” said DuPre. “We got the money for the materials and they’re volunteering all their time. It will be a marvelous asset to all the users.”
Additional RTP grant funds go to trail maintenance, which DuPre calls the lifeline for keeping trails open and safe. “The Forest Service just has no federal dollars at this point to put into trail maintenance,” she said. CORRA has applied for additional grant funding to buy equipment and step up their trail grooming, much to the pleasure of the Forest Service. “It’s just escalated, every month is just a new fun thing they’re doing with us. It’s really nice, it’s been fun,” said DuPre.
Wagner credits the club’s success to the NOHVCC tools and information, as well as the willingness by NOHVCC project managers to provide advise over the phone. “We want to let people know that it is worth it. It’s definitely something you can do, because two knuckleheads basically put this organization together,” Wagner said.