Keeping Trails Open – AN ODE TO TRAIL WORKERS
As published in the March 2020 issue of Horsemen’s Corral
Many guidebooks, most maps, and the entire www.TrailMeister website are devoted to a series of squiggly lines. We study those streaks of ink, dream of being on them, and spend an inordinate amount of money to get to and follow them. Those of us that enjoy a life spent out of doors, and especially trail riders, spend a large amount of time on trails. But have we stopped for a moment to appreciate the trail workers who create and maintain the trails beneath us?
I’m not sure how many trail miles I’ve covered over the years. Between day rides, frequent pack trips into wilderness areas, and even a few backpacking excursions over the past decades, I’d venture that the number adds up well into the thousands, perhaps even into five digit territory.
Generally those miles have been made with little thought to the origins of the trails. Instead I often think about the upcoming views, the quality of the fishing, and where the next place to water the mules lies in the distance ahead. Despite the time I spend on the trail I rarely consider the hard work and efforts that go into creating the paths that grant us access into these hallowed places. Aren’t trails meant to be unnoticed?
If you believe that your land managers (or trail fairies, take your pick) are able to maintain trails on their own I can tell you about a Gilligan’s Island trip into the Pasayten Wilderness where a 3 hour ride became an 8 hour ordeal of trail clearing.
This past summer I had the opportunity to join groups of concerned riders for work projects across the Pacific Northwest. People from hundreds of miles away loaded their trucks and trailers to join together to clear trail, rebuild equestrian camps, and reconstruct bridges in the Wilderness, with members of Back Country Horsemen of America.
Every work party begins with a greeting from piles of tools, and materials. After a safety briefing, we make our way to our work site and begin the task at hand. From removing ancient nails from a rotting bridge deck to mixing concrete for new highline posts, we labored, occasionally taking breaks to admire our handy work.
Keeping trails open is hard. Foot by foot, often inch by painstaking inch. Occasionally it goes quickly. More often it’s a slow laborious slog. Every time I volunteer for a trail work party I’m always amazed at the time and dedication that even a modest project requires. When I’m riding, I move past wooden bridges, cleared downfall, and water-bars without pause. It’s the time spent helping build and maintaining these structures that puts this into perspective and reminds me of the efforts that went into them.
For the past 46 years the Back Country Horsemen of America have been working to maintain trails on public lands across the nation. From raising funds and awareness, to influencing policies with land managers, they’ve been on the ground, leading trail projects and educating trail users. Keeping horse trails and camps open involves not just the national organization but also state and local chapters of BCHA, all working together as stewards of local trails. The hard work of these groups creates pathways for horsemen to access the beautiful and remote places that we all crave. Their trail work provides safe passage through rugged landscapes that would otherwise be impassable and lost to future generations.
So, the next time you’re out enjoying a trail ride, remember to give a thank you to the volunteer trail workers that make it possible. If you happen to be enjoying the Ken Wilcox Horse Camp or pack into the Pasayten Wilderness across the bridges on Robinson Creek keep an eye open for the new picnic tables and the rebuilt bridge. Some of us are still sore from the efforts.
Enjoy this video of the work that trail maintainers accomplish.
Better yet, please be active in keeping your trails open. Join a trail advocacy organization and fight to protect the wild places that you love. For more information on Back Country Horsemen of America visit www.bcha.org.
As always for the world’s largest guide to horse trails and camps visit www.TrailMeister.com with well over three thousand areas listed! Driving directions, trail maps, GPS tracks, and much more.