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Mount Yonah GA

Mount Yonah
View of Mt. Yonah from the Yonah Burger
Mount Yonah Info

Mount Yonah is administered by:
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Forest Service
P.O. Box 1960
Clarkesville, GA 30523

Responsible officer: Mr. Ed Hunter, Chattooga District Ranger

SCC area representative for Mount Yonah: Jon Powell- jml.jonathan@yahoo.com

Click here to see an agency-wide Memorandum of Understanding between Access Fund and the US Forest Service (USFS).

New Parking Area and Access for Mt. Yonah - November 2005
There is a new parking area and trail head to gain access to Mt. Yonah. The days of the long hike in on the gravel road (through private land) are over. See directions below.

Directions to new parking area and trail head:
From Cleveland, Georgia go north on 75 to right on to Bell Road at the West Family Resturant. Take the first left on Chambers Road to new gravel road on left. Follow new marked trail to Mt. Yonah.

Click here for a road and trail map to climbing areas at Mt. Yonah (USFS).

Click here to for more info on access to Mt. Yonah (USFS).

Camping: Primitive camping is allowed anywhere on the mountain at this time. Pay camping is available at Yonah Mountain Campground on Hwy 75 which is only five minutes from the parking lot and all amenities are available.

Yonah Mountain Reopens to Public Access November 2005

By Michael Crowder (SCC Northeast GA rep) After approximately eight years in limbo, public access to Yonah Mountain has been restored. Yonah Mountain is located in White County off of Hwy 75 between Cleveland and Helen. It has long been a major tourist attraction for the area, drawing scores of rock climbers, hikers, campers and other user groups.

The access problems originated when local homeowners on the road traditionally used decided to gate it after nearly 50 years of public use. The U.S. Army who uses the mountain for training purposes immediately cut a deal with the land owners for access by offering to maintain the road at taxpayer’s expense.

The U.S. Forest Service soon followed suit by offering to help maintain the road in exchange for “administrative access”. This left the public out in the cold with no legal access but having to foot the bill to maintain a private road which they couldn’t use.

The Southeastern Climbers Coalition, The Access Fund (both of these organizations are rock climber supported activist organizations), and the Land for Public Trust launched an initiative to purchase land for legal access. A tract of land was bought off of Chambers Road which connected the land locked Forest Service tract with a public road.

This land, funded by private donations, was then deeded to the Forrest Service with the promise of a road being built forthright. There was a period of planning and three plans were released for public review. The approved plan called for a 1.2 mile road that would have placed the parking area about half way up the mountain. This plan was modified slightly one more time and released for public comment and approved.

What has now been built in no way represents any of the plans which were released to the public and organizations that helped pay for the property to build it on. We now have a gravel road that is approximately 500 yards long which is much shorter than the publicly proposed and approved plans. The Forrest Service said that budget concerns and visual impact were the main influences in the change of plans. They do have the budget to still keep the private road maintained though.

From the new parking lot a fairly well constructed trail winds up the mountain to the top. This new trail is moderately strenuous and the hiking time to the top of the mountain is about an hour for fit individuals. This trail features a bridge over the only drainage it crosses and nice views of the area.

The grade of the trail has been well planned and it is only steep in a couple of places. Because of the winding nature of this trail many people will be tempted to short cut it in places. Please try to avoid shortcutting the trail as it will lead to detrimental impact on the ecology and cause additional erosion problems.

While the new road and trail is not optimally done to make access as quick and easy as originally planned it is still very exciting for users of Yonah Mountain. Over the past few weeks I have seen many people using this access for adventures on the mountain. The majority are rock climbers. A good number of rapellers, hikers and campers are using this access also.

The only camping is primitive and no regulations have been posted as of this time. If some are not implemented the same problems that forced the landowners to close the traditional access will begin to reoccur. No water is available but modernized “outhouses” do at least provide restroom facilities.

The number one user group on Yonah Mountain is rock climbers. Climbers come from all over the Southeast and sometimes even further to enjoy its beautiful granite climbing. The main wall provides close to a hundred climbs that vary from very easy to extremely difficult.

Often times the Army has large groups of Ranger trainees from Camp Frank D. Merrill on the mountain so be flexible with your climbing plans if they are on the mountain. At present they are only using a small fraction of the overall climbing resource so there is still plenty of climbing to be done when they are training.

I have been climbing on Yonah for over 25 years and still find new climbs to challenge me on a regular basis. In the winter Yonah even offers several ice climbs for those who are inclined to climb it. The North Face offers very consistent ice and there is even one ice climb that forms occasionally on the predominate Southwest Face.

Many of the permanent climbing anchors on Yonah are very old or not optimally placed so be sure and use good judgment when using fixed anchors. Some of the Petzel “lifetime” bolts that have been placed by the army are 12mm bolts placed in ½” holes. Make sure and aggressively test these type bolts before trusting them. I have pulled all that I have found improperly placed but may have missed a few.

The only trail map that exists at present is crude but useable. It can be found at www.coolclimbing.com. Follow the rock climbing link then look under the topos tab. Rock climbing route information can also be found on this site. Chris Watford’s climbing guides contain an overview of the available climbing on Yonah but are by no means complete. The available topos at coolclimbing.com augment his information well.

To reach the new access take Hwy 75 north from Cleveland, GA towards Helen. Turn right on Tom Bell Rd at the West Family Restaurant. Then take an immediate left on Chambers Rd. looking for the second gravel road on your left. The new trail will be obvious from the parking lot. Michael Crowder hueyville@mindspring.com

Forest Service Closer to Building Parking Lot

The Forest Service has officially decided to use the land purchased by the Trust for Public Land as the location for a trailhead and parking facility for Mount Yonah. Access Fund Master Trail Designer Jim Angell has already designed a trail from the selected trailhead. The other alternative proposed by the Forest Service would have required climbers to park near a subdivision east of Mount Yonah, where conflicts between user groups could have developed, and would have required a 1.9 mile hike. For the present, climbers may still use the old approach trail. Driving to the top via the old access road remains closed. The Forest Service has submitted a budget for the work needed on the new trailhead facility, but realistically does not expect to get the funds for the project until 2001. Vertical Times - Access Fund

Mike Crowder climbing at Mout Yonah
Climbing at Mt. Yonah
Mount Yonah Alternative Analysis

There is reason for renewed hope for a resolution to the long-standing access problem at Mt. Yonah in North Georgia. For the past several years, the existing private gravel road has been closed to the public except for foot traffic. With the help of the Trust for Public Lands, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, and the Access Fund, an additional tract of land was acquired by the Forest Service for construction of a new road and parking lot, with planned access from the new parking lot by a .5 mile trail to the old parking lot, and then to the cliffs via the existing trails. However, this plan hit a snag after the property was acquired and during a trail planning effort led by the Access Fund's master trail planner, Jim Angell. At that time, it was discovered that the grade of the land would make the construction of a road more expensive and difficult than expected and would make it difficult to construct the trail as a jeep trail (a concern of the Army Rangers who train on the mountain.) The situation remained at an impasse for many months.

On December 1, 1998, the National Forest Service laid out two alternative plans to restore access to the cliffs on Mt. Yonah. The first alternative (identified as the West Side Alternative or Alternative 1) would mirror the original plan for the recently acquired tract, and seems to best serve climbers' interests. It would provide the most direct access to the cliffs, although at significantly greater expense to the Forest Service for construction of the road and parking lot. (The total estimated cost for Alternative 1 is $280,000 for a gravel road and $360,000 if the road is paved.) The East Side Alternative (Alternative 2) would provide access across existing Forest Service land at a much lower cost (estimated at $76,500), but it would originate in a residential neighborhood, again raising the prospect of conflicts with the local residents. Alternative 2 contemplates construction of a much shorter and easily constructed road to a parking lot, but a trail from the new parking lot to the old parking lot that would be much longer (1.9 miles) and more difficult to construct. This alternative would also not provide jeep access via the new trail, desirable to the Army and the Forest Service for administrative access.

Through letters to interested parties, the Forest Service has opened an informal public comment period ending on January 15, 1999. However, public notice will also be published in local papers at a later date, and additional comments will be taken at that time. To submit comments on the alternatives or to be placed on the mailing list for future mailings, write to:

Peach Keller, District Resource Assistant
U.S. Forest Service
Chattooga Ranger District
P.O. Box 1960
Clarkesville, GA 30523

December 1, 1998 NOTICE

Concerned Climbers;
Please take the time to respond to this memo from the Forest Service. There is a 30 day Public Comment Period on these two alternatives. Alternative 1 utilizes the land purchased by the climbing community. Please make a quick note to: Peech Keller c/o US Forest Service P.O. Box 1960 Clarkesville, GA. 30502

Responses must be via snail mail. NO email or phone messages. Please write. Thanks.

Mount Yonah
Comparison of West Access V.S. East Access

Alternative 1 (West Side)

  • New Road Construction - 0.9 miles
  • Construction Difficulty - More difficult, steep side slopes, stream crossings, boulders
  • New Road and Parking Lot Costs - $280,000 - gravel $350,000 paved
  • Road Reconstruction Costs - None
  • New Trail Construction - 0.5 miles
  • New Trail Costs - $5000 ($10,000 per mile)
  • Total Costs - $280,000 - 360,000
  • Desirability for Climbers - moderate (adequate access)
  • Desirability for Admin Access - good-moderate (vehicular access OR 1/2 to 1 mile walk from parking lot to top of mountain.
Alternative 2 (East Side)
  • New Road Construction - 1000-1400 feet
  • Construction Difficulty - less difficult, moderate side slope, no creek,streamorboulder
  • New Road and Parking Lot Costs - $40,000 - gravel
  • Road Reconstruction Costs - $10,000
  • New Trail Construction - 1.9 miles
  • New Trail Costs - $28,500 ($15,000 per mile) because of boulders
  • Total Costs - $78,500
  • Desirability for Climbers -low (trail too long)
  • Desirability for Admin Access - very low (1.9 to 2.4 mile walk from parking lot to top of mountain.
YONAH MOUNTAIN ACCESS UPDATE – Michael Crowder - January, 2003

Yonah Mountain is large granite dome located between Cleveland and Helen, Georgia. The top of the mountain is controlled by the United States Forest Service. This mountain has traditionally been used by rock and ice climbers, hikers, campers, hunters and other outdoors/nature lovers. At present there is no legal public access.

Access to Yonah Mountain has been in limbo for many years. Years of no one accepting responsibility for maintenance or law enforcement have led to the residents gating the road, which was previously open to the public. Here is the latest scoop and some history behind it all. Please follow some of the links for more specific info and if you have any relevant information or discover any mistakes please let me know at michael@crowderinc.com.

Access to the summit was originally obtained to service a fire observation tower in the 1950's. When the tower was decommissioned and dismantled the terms of the original lease were no longer valid. At this time the Forest Service had the opportunity to convert the lease and maintain control of it but for reasons unknown it was not pursued. The Forest Service, the Army and the public continued to use this road until the early 1990's. Then one of the residents put up a gate and although many people protested it there was never any real action taken to have it removed. Soon a second gate was added and now there are three. This seems kind of redundant for a one-lane, dead-end dirt road.

The residents’ reason for closing the road was the tremendous amount of traffic along with problems it created. The first gate installed was the red gate about half way up the road. This house was originally built as a “spec” house by a builder. Since it was built less than 20 feet off of a busy dirt road it did not sell quickly. It actually sat unoccupied for over a year before it was turned into a vacation rental. It was then rented as a residential property. These tenants complained incessantly about the traffic. With their house sitting right in the apex of a curve whenever a car came by their house was filled with dust. At one point there was even a complaint about gunfire from a passing car.

At the time Yonah was kind of a free for all. The White County Sheriffs Department didn't have jurisdiction on Federal land and the Forest Service claimed to not have the manpower to patrol the area often. In twenty plus years of climbing there I have never seen a Ranger patrol the mountain. I even drove down the mountain once to call in a complaint and was told it was opening weekend of trout season and they couldn't send anyone and the Sheriffs Department said they had no jurisdiction. Of course all of the local punks figured this out and the Yonah parking lot became party central every Friday and Saturday night. To see an example of some of the types of people driving on Yonah Road check out this article.

Immediately after the closure of the road a local citizens group was formed to challenge the gating but was disbanded when the Access Fund stepped in. After much negotiating and lobbying the Access Fund was unable to find a way to get the road reopened. Soon after the gates were installed the Army cut a side deal with the residents for full access in return for paying for all of the maintenance on the road. The road is now in better condition than I have seen it in over twenty years and we are not allowed to drive on it. While I think this is very unfair I understand the residents reasoning for the closure. Most of them seem to like climbers. It was the drunken rednecks that upset them. As to the current residents in the house in the curve; when a buddy of mine came wandering down the road with his head busted open and needing stitches they rendered aid and drove him back to his truck. Currently the residents still allow foot traffic up the road. This is very gracious considering that as taxpayers, we are still paying for the maintenance of the road.

The next attempt at regaining access was the purchase of an easement from Chambers Road to the west side of the National Forest boundary. In a strong show of public support for Yonah access the Land for Public Trust along with help from the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund raised enough money to purchase a right-of-way. This property follows an old road most of the way but not all of the way. The new road has been surveyed and approved for years up this tract but the Forest Service has yet to be able to budget the 84,000 dollars needed to fund the project. In the past few years 2.7 million dollars has been allocated to spend on additional land purchases to add the Yonah tract, the Army has spent the money to keep the road in perfect shape, trails have been reworked, signs added, porta-johns set up and other money eating projects done. It seems almost strange that one of the cheapest and best things that could be done for the general public can't get in the budget.

Even though private funds bought the Chambers road access it was then turned over to the Forest Service. Because there has not been funding for the road, trail, and parking lot yet, they have asked that it not be used for access at this point. The Army has ignored this and in conjunction with a lease of a couple of acres of private land they have built access that is driveable to within 4/10ths of a mile of the lower helipad and a have a decent trail from there. They have improved the old road from the lower helipad to the old parking lot to the point where it is driveable again. From the edge of the pavement on Chambers Road to the old parking lot it is 1.4 miles. Less than half the distance of walking up Yonah Road where we don't really have legal access anymore. The residents "allow" foot traffic at present but they could stop that if they wanted to. Check out the new trail on my Yonah map. This new road is currently blocked by a steel gate with a private property sign prominently displayed.

The original access options presented by the Forest Service give a great deal of information on the mountain and several possible access options. Follow this link to see these. Option 4, the access from Chambers Road, was approved. There was also a recent mandate that expands the Forest Service’s approved area for future land additions. When I first read it I thought it meant that 1,300 acres had been purchased but it really means that there is that much more total land the government would like to eventually acquire. Follow this link to see the original post in the Federal Register pertaining to the additional lands.

With help from the Land for Public Trust, the Forest Service has just acquired 139 more acres on the west side of Yonah in the vicinity of the proposed road and parking lot. This new land makes the accepted road plan even more viable. I will be surveying this new tract with my G.P.S. in the near future to see if it would allow easier construction of the road. There is also an additional 139 acres that are presently owned by the L.P.T. but has not been transferred into the Forest Services control as of yet. With the 278 acres of additional property either acquired or in the paper work stages and a mandate to acquire 1,300 more acres you would think public access would be important enough to allocate some funds.

We also have a legal right-of-way up the east side of the mountain via Friedrickson Road, which was also outlined in the Forest Services original proposals. This option was cheaper but resulted in a longer approach to the traditional climbing areas. I would like to see this one developed in addition to the Chambers Road access. This would take some pressure off the proposed small option 4 parking lot and many hikers would use a east side entrance as it would be a less vertical walk to the summit than from the west side. The Friedrickson Road access would also be super sweet for the ice climbing areas on the North Face.

Currently the Forest Service is negotiating for permanent right-of-way up the old Yonah Road, which they will probably get. This will be for Army and Forest Service administrative access only. They will also accept all responsibility for road maintenance forever. The residents get to keep the road private and are never going to have to pay a dime for maintenance. I am not even sure that walking access is going to be guaranteed in the new lease. The new administration at the Forest Service has been much more receptive and helpful than past ones. The current Ranger in charge has actually been working to stop the A.T.V.ers that have terrorized the mountain for years and is working very hard toward conservation and restoration of Yonah Mountain’s unique resources. He understands our position and is doing everything he can to help but without specific funding his hands are tied.

So what can you do to help? Below you will find a link to a form letter intended for key public officials. Please copy the letter, add your personal information and forward it to the appropriate officials. Printing it out and sending it by U.S. Mail gets the most attention but forwarding it electronically is still a big help. To keep up with the current developments check back here or at www.seclimbers.org. The Forest Service has indicated that they could probably raise half the money if we can raise the other half for the new road. So if you have some spare cash send it to the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and mention it is for the Yonah Mountain Access Fund and it will be used to put you back in easy range of some beautiful granite. The best thing we can do is raise awareness among our public officials by letting them know that this is an important issue to many people. Please follow the link below and forward a simple form letter to key officials. Michael Crowder - hueyville@mindspring.com

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Published on: 2005-11-26 (26976 reads)
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