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Sandra Gordy, 57, lives in a remote area of Catoosa County with her dog Diamond, on Taylors Ridge.
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On the ridge, at the end of the road, the Gordys just want some peace and quiet

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RINGGOLD, Ga. — At the end of a dirt path, in the final steps of civilized society, Dr. Tai Federico's family found a man on a four-wheeler, waiting for them.

Kyle Moreno, whose own family has controlled this particular stretch of Taylor's Ridge for generations, didn't believe Federico had a right to be there.

Sure, Federico and his father-in-law bought this property six months earlier, in November 2012. But their 18 acres sat beyond the edge of Taylor's Ridge Road. To get there, they had to cross the dirt path.

And the dirt path sat on land owned by Moreno's grandparents. Federico didn't have an easement, Moreno said. He was landlocked out.

Moreno had tried unsuccessfully to get Federico's attention before, whenever the Chattanooga veterinarian swung by to admire his purchase — his potential weekend getaway in the woods. So this time, in May 2013, Moreno blocked Federico's family behind his grandparents' gate. Moreno's wife called 911.

Some people are trespassing, she said.

Federico's mother-in-law, in turn, called 911.

Some people are locking us in, she said.

***

Deputies arrived. Nobody got arrested. Four years passed.

Federico tried to sell the land back to Moreno's family, but negotiations broke down. He said they declined to pay. Moreno said Federico didn't respond to a follow-up offer.

And so the fight continues, no truce in sight. Federico understands this may end in civil court.

"It's terrible," he said. "The whole thing is just kind of terrible. It's just kind of silly."

But in the midst of this conflict, a second battle has erupted on the ridge. This one is among family. And this one, too, shows no signs of settlement.

Sandra Gordy technically is landlocked also. She lives on the other side of Federico, even farther from Moreno's grandparents, John and Earlene Gordy — her relatives by marriage for 17 years. She watched the beginning of the first fight and wondered: If they'll keep Federico off the dirt path, what's to stop them from blocking her one day, too?

Well, blood.

The family has always let each other use the path, Earlene Gordy said. But Sandra isn't so sure. She bickers a lot with John and Earlene these days. And they always close their gate at the front of the property, forcing her to open it whenever she comes and goes. It exposes her to John and Earlene's donkeys.

"These are mean donkeys," she said. "They will try to bite you through the gate."

Sandra asked the Catoosa County Commission to declare that dirt path a public road. The declaration would give her and Federico freedom to come and go. It would also force John and Earlene to take down their gate.

The commissioners considered the idea last month. The county manager visited the properties. Some of the oldest county employees shared stories about the Gordys, and what they could remember about Taylor's Ridge Road going back a couple of decades.

In the end, the commission declined Sandra's request. The path, they reasoned, has always been private.

Sandra still wants easier access to her land, though. And Federico still wants access to his land, period. And Earlene wants privacy, and for her neighbors to respect the commission's ruling.

But all three say they're coming from the same place. They want peace and quiet on the ridge.

***

None of the people still there are quite sure how long the Gordys have lived on the ridge, but their estimates settle at around 100 years. Catoosa County property records date back to at least 1945, when J.M. Gordy, a sawmill operator, left 200 acres for his two sons. Between them, the brothers and their wives had 15 children, including John Gordy.

He used to walk down a hill to school every morning, crossing a swinging bridge at South Chickamauga Creek on the way into town. Over the years, the Gordys sold about half the land, and the family members divided the rest. After serving in Vietnam for two years and working a dairy farm on Cloud Springs Road, John returned to the family's property with Earlene in 1981.

They've lived here ever since, Earlene said, raising animals and farming the land. Until about a decade ago, they didn't have power.

"We've lived like the old days," she said, "and I like it."

She said Federico should have known he was buying landlocked property. Her grandson, Moreno, said they don't want too many people driving on the dirt path because the oil from their vehicles could drip into a spring they cross. And more traffic on the path means more erosion. And even if you don't buy those arguments, it doesn't matter. The land is John and Earlene's, and they can do with it what they want.

"And now you've got somebody coming in, telling them they own the road and this, that and the other," Moreno said. "It just wouldn't seem right for my grandparents to give up a portion of their property."

***

A couple of hundred feet away, in her front yard, in front of the skulls of three deer her husband shot, Sandra Gordy considered Earlene's stance last month. It doesn't make sense to her.

She said she and Federico should have access to the dirt path through legal loopholes such as squatters' rights and "an easement of necessity." Or maybe both. All that's left is a lawsuit and a judge's ruling. But she can't afford a lawyer.

"I'm just a poor white woman," she told commissioners during a meeting last month.

Sandra moved here from Michigan to follow a man decades ago. Their marriage didn't work out, and neither did her second one. But then she met Ellis Gordy, John's brother, through one of her co-workers at a mill in Dalton.

Ellis was quiet, but quiet was nice. They lived in a trailer in Tunnel Hill until a doctor diagnosed her with cervical cancer. Ellis' roofing work slowed down as he cared for her, and in 2007 they moved to the ridge on 18 acres Ellis' mother left for them.

They built the house, living out of a Jeep for three winter months and bathing with water heated over a fire, she said. Now they have a showerhead, a bedroom, a kitchen, a screened-in porch and an outhouse. They used to raise chickens until some coyotes ate them.

They grow peaches, pears, carrots, corn and broccoli. For meat, Ellis fishes trout and hunts deer. Sandra wakes up at 5 to drink coffee, meditate and watch the sun rise.

"I'm pretty much content," she said. "I don't think I've been this content in my life."

Alas, the family problems. Sandra said they began in February 2016, when she suffered a seizure. She can't remember the details, but she said she was told the ambulance couldn't make it to her house — the dirt path too narrow, rocky and steep. Ellis had to drive her down to John and Earlene's, where the paramedics waited.

Soon after, she started fighting with Earlene about the path, and the gate, and her access to her property.

Earlene said Sandra's story is only half true. Yes, the seizure happened. And yes, the ambulance couldn't reach Ellis and Sandra's. But Ellis didn't have to drive her in the truck: Paramedics had another, smaller vehicle that they drove up the path to pick up Sandra.

Nevertheless, the next fight unfolded in June. Sandra said, she caught John stealing small items — wrenches, nails, "stupid stuff." She confronted him and Earlene about the theft. She said she caught the crime on a game camera in the woods, but Earlene said she was lying. Sandra doesn't have the video anymore and said she accidentally deleted it.

"After that," she said, "all hell broke loose."

First, Earlene called 911 on Sandra.

"We have this girl that come through this morning, open the gate, and she take off with the chain," she told a dispatcher. "And she's still up here."

A week later, Sandra called 911 on Earlene.

"My neighbors keep closing their gate," she said. "And my lawyer has told me they have no right to close their gate."

In December, Sandra filed criminal charges against Earlene in magistrate court. She said Earlene punctured her tires and tried to run her grandchildren off the road when they visited. But, upon hearing the evidence, the magistrate sided with Earlene.

"If I wanted to run someone off the road," she said, "they would be off the road."

Earlene believes Sandra is lobbing lies her way to guilt the county commission. If they feel bad for her, they might declare the path a public road, paving it and forcing John and Earlene to take down their gate.

But the gate will stay, she said. And Sandra will come and go freely. And that Chattanooga veterinarian will stay out.

"I'm not a bad person," Earlene said. "I just want to go by the rules. I'm not losing no sleep over it."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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