Coweeta Hosts Workshop on Access Road Construction

Workshop participants learn how to measure road grade with an Abney level. Photo by Randy Fowler, U.S. Forest Service.
Workshop participants learn how to measure road grade with an Abney level. Photo by Randy Fowler, U.S. Forest Service.

A poorly built forest road just won’t stay put. Water runoff from unpaved roads carries soil and road materials away; without proper buffers between roads and waterways, sediments can be transported into streams, degrading water quality and stream habitat.

In 1934, U.S. Forest Service scientists at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory began researching how land use change and forest management practices affect water quality and quantity. Road engineering and design on mountainous slopes, and the resulting sediment transport to streams, have been key aspects of this research. Lloyd Swift and Barry Clinton, emeritus Coweeta scientists, recently led a workshop that translated research findings for private landowners and was applicable to their private access roads. The workshop was organized and sponsored by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, and funded by a grant from Duke Energy.  

Thirty people, mostly from southwestern North Carolina, gathered at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory for the one-day event. After a morning of formal presentations, participants took to the woods, and spent the afternoon looking at the access roads within the Coweeta Basin. Participants learned about road design, construction, maintenance, and reconstruction in a series of talks by experts including Swift and Clinton, as well as Edward Haight, founder of a forensic engineering consulting firm, and Philip Moore, regional planner with the Southwestern Commission, the council of local governments in southwestern North Carolina. Several county resource agencies were present, including the North Carolina Forest Service, Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Macon County Department of Planning, Permitting, and Development.

Most of the workshop attendees were private landowners whose forested land was part of a subdivision or a small farm. “Most of the folks who came wanted to control water runoff from existing roads and reduce long-term maintenance costs,” said Randy Fowler, technology transfer Specialist at Coweeta who helped facilitate the workshop. “A few of the participants were looking to put new roads through their property, and wanted to find the best location for a new road, how to lay it out, or how to work with a contractor laying the road out.”

Workshop participants seem to have left with the tools they needed in hand. “The topics were very relevant, from design to measuring slope in the field, dealing with contractors and understanding county agency resources,” said one participant. “I feel much more confident about designing and maintaining roads.”

For more information, email Randy Fowler at

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