Off-Roading Enthusiasts Chart a Path for a New Club at The Cliffs at Walnut Cove

Joe Tanner and Fred Livingston took off for a jaunt in the country last October. They drove separately to the Uwharrie National Forest in central North Carolina, about three hours away from their homes in The Cliffs of Walnut Cove. There, they spent two days putting their Jeeps, and themselves, through the wringer, bumping over boulders on rough trails where, the next day, some 100 Marines would also learn from experts how to navigate bone-rattling paths.

It was just another weekend drive through the woods. And today, Tanner and Livingston are the driving force behind a new off-roading club coming soon to Walnut Cove.

Last fall, the guys took an advanced off-roading course with OEX, which trains elite military personnel, industrial and humanitarian-aid workers, and recreational aficionados like Livingston and Tanner.

“They set up a trail that has these huge boulders,” Tanner recalls of the experience in the sprawling national forest east of Charlotte. “You have to keep your vehicle such that it doesn’t tip over” — as
he almost did when his Jeep tilted to a harrowing 27-degree angle.

So, yeah, this ain’t a garden-variety camping
trip — although, off-roading can include some of that, too.

“You go to a destination, you camp out at a campground. Everybody makes their dinners,” Tanner says, also mentioning al fresco happy hours. The next morning, the caravan heads
out for more adventures. And then: “You come back to your campground, cook your meal, tell stories, show off your different vehicles and all the gadgets you’ve got versus other gadgets. Then you leave Saturday or Sunday.”

It’s good times — though not exactly the kind of offering that springs to mind when you think
of relaxing clubs at The Cliffs, with the lush golf courses, playground lakes, and calm-inducing mountain vistas.

As Livingston says with a chuckle, “It doesn’t exactly match up with what you would think would be The Cliffs’ members’ lifestyle.”

Yet several months ago, he and Tanner approached Andrew Lovice, Walnut Cove’s Director of Outdoor Pursuits, and Chris Rhodes, the community’s General Manager, about starting an off-roading club there.

Says Lovice: “I initially just thought everybody was into playing golf or tennis — those are the two main activities — and there was really no hardcore outdoor group. Come to find out, we have quite a large amount of the population that really loves to hike, but also loves to do some of the more extreme versions of endurance sports — downhill mountain biking-type courses, outdoor climbing, indoor climbing. We have a crowd that definitely gravitates toward the higher-octane side of things.”

Livingston has gone off the beaten path since he was a boy back in the flatlands of his native south Georgia, where he rambled around dirt roads in a pickup truck. In 2019, after retiring from his financial advisory firm in Atlanta, he and his wife, Donna, moved permanently to Walnut Cove.

After 40 years, he says he was looking for pursuits in addition to golf and cycling.

“I was trying to figure out the best solution for me to transport a mountain bike,” he says, so he bought a Jeep: “Basically, you know, a $58,000 bike rack.”

So what would be the appeal of taking out perfectly good vehicles that would return home mud-splashed or dirt-caked and potentially damaged?

“It’s a challenge,” Livingston says. “I mean, I’m a big nature guy,
I hunt, I fish, I hike, I bike. Being in nature and being in places that people can’t get to is exciting.”

Likewise, both men say they enjoy the fellowship and, as they saw during their advanced off-roading course last fall, they got to meet others who have traveled disparate — and occasionally rock-, creek- and felled tree-strewn — roads.

“It’s all kinds of people that enjoy getting outdoors, and it’s an easy way to do it without having to backpack and hike and haul all your stuff in,” Livingston says.

Which helps explain why Livingston and Tanner suggested adding an off-roading club to Walnut Cove’s expansive list of offerings available to The Cliffs’ 5,000-plus members throughout the seven communities.

Rhodes, who owns a Jeep himself, liked the idea. After managing golf clubs in Palm Desert, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, he moved to Asheville largely because of its outdoor culture.

Underscoring Walnut Cove’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, he says, “In a weird way, Walnut Cove has more of the off-roading, mountain-bike type members because that’s where we all live. And off-roading is becoming huge out here.”

He goes on to mention a recent stop at a nearby gas station: “And there were about 30 Jeeps, all from Greenville, coming up here to hang out for a couple days and go to the Blue Ridge Parkway. So we have a ton of opportunities up here where it actually does fit.”

And Livingston mentions the peculiar happenstance so many of us experience when we, say, buy a new car and suddenly see a bunch more like it. He mentions a golf outing with a friend who later joined him on a couple of off-road expeditions.

“And then we were riding somewhere,” Livingston says, “and he says, ‘You know, I think you may have started something. I’m seeing a lot of Jeeps here in the neighborhood.’”

As for starting a club, Lovice says, “I was looking to do this program to basically put structure with it and plan excursions.”

Lovice and Rhodes say the group likely will get off the ground, so to speak, in the early part of 2023. Both predict at least 15 of Walnut Cove’s 600-some residents, and likely more, will get behind the wheel of the new club.

All four also note that off-roaders don’t tear up the environment; trails are set aside for these adventures. Tanner, for instance, mentions nearby off-road destinations such as Pisgah National Forest, whose half-million acres include dedicated off-roading trails, along with Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.

As Lovice says, “There are a lot of roads, especially outside the general Asheville area that have pretty awesome, fairly remote roads that go on for a long stretch.”

Tanner says he expects quarterly outings and envisions each community at The Cliffs starting a club that will also serve as forum to share experiences and ideas.

“It’s a really cool kind of experience,” Lovice says. “In addition to the golf and tennis, this is going to widen the net essentially, because if you can create an easier path to get people hooked in with activities that they love and the things that draw them to the area in the first place — because Asheville is a pretty outdoor-centric place — I think that potentially draws a wider audience to The Cliffs.”

This story was featured in Cliffs Living Magazine. To see more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.

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