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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

August 31, 2011

Jocassee Gorges roads to open Sept. 15

For the fifth year in a row, all the Jocassee Gorges main access roads will be opened as planned on Thursday, Sept. 15. Roads will remain open until Jan. 15, 2012. The roads will open again in spring 2012 from March 20 through May 10.

"In past years, we’ve had to close at least one main access road due to poor conditions related to either environmental impacts or safety concerns," said Mark Hall, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manager of Jocassee Gorges in northern Pickens and Oconee counties. "Despite slim state budgets and limited staff, downed trees and gully-washing rains, we’ve been able to keep the roads in excellent shape."

The Jocassee Gorges contains some more than 40 miles of main access roads that are open to the public during the spring and fall. "Some folks have the misconception that the gates are only opened to accommodate hunters," Hall said. "The fact of the matter is that the gates are open for about five and a half months out of the year, and almost two months are times when hunting is very limited." DNR’s approach, according to Hall, is to balance the opportunities for different uses during the spring and summer. Hunting pressure in general is fairly light, and the DNR has found that many activities take place without much interference between users.

The key access road to Crossroads Mountain is open year-round, and it passes through North Carolina’s Gorges State Park, off NC Highway 281, in North Carolina. The main road that enters Jocassee Gorges in Pickens County, Horsepasture Road, begins at US Highway 178 and is also open year round for the first 3.5 miles. It provides access to the Laurel Fork Creek and Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserves and affords a good jumping-off spot for the wild interior of Jocassee. The gates for the remaining 35 miles or so of main access roads are closed during summer and late winter. In the summer, the roadsides are allowed to develop a lush growth of vegetation that provides some of the best wildlife habitat on the property. Winter uses are restricted due to the typical wet winter conditions and heavy impacts on the road system when it is saturated with water. Bears, birds and other animals are able to use the undisturbed road system during the closed periods except for the occasional passing DNR worker.

DNR has limited staff to care for the Jocassee Gorges road system. Ken Forrester is the new Jocassee Gorges wildlife technician, and he assumed the duties of two technicians who recently retired. Ed Stovall works on a part-time basis to help with road maintenance. Stovall helped build many of the roads back in the 1970s when he was employed by the former owner of the land, Crescent Resources.

"These men do an excellent job," said Hall. "They are responsible for the many miles of good roads that have withstood the heavy rains this year."

"McNeely Trucking of North Carolina has gone the extra mile for DNR to get road gravel delivered on time," Hall said. "Owner Mack McNeely spent time hunting and fishing on Jocassee as a boy, and he wants to see DNR make the land available to as many people as possible."

This year, some selective logging is underway to improve wildlife habitat and tree growth. Visitors are advised to abide by the speed limits and to watch for the occasional logging truck that is hauling timber to the local mills.

The combination of good partners and hard-working technicians has resulted in a good main access road system on Jocassee Gorges. Access is the key to management. The main roads have allowed DNR to focus time on habitat management, feral hog control and controlled burning.

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