Many of us enjoy the thousands of miles of trails that crisscross our beautiful state’s scenic forestlands. Whether you are walking, hiking, biking or riding a horse, you may have wondered who keeps those trails clear as you enjoy the beauty. Sure, there are employees of the state and national parks that do some of the work, but they do not have the funding to keep all the trails clear – so who is doing it? Often, your trails are usable thanks to the volunteer efforts of the non-profit organization Back Country Horsemen of Washington, which has 32 chapters across Washington State.
The Lewis County Chapter (LCBCH), led by President Tom Herrin, is a group of 90 people – most who ride horses or mules, but some non-riders as well – who are dedicated to making sure our trails stay open to the public.
“There is no requirement to own stock to be a member, and a few do not own any,” says Jim Thode, alternate director and webmaster for the LCBCH. “They just want to support our mission to keep public lands open to the public.”
Within our county, they do a lot of volunteer work in the North Gifford Pinchot area, maintaining the trails for everyone to use, not just equines. “All the trails we work on are open to at least some other type of user, and occasionally we have worked on trails and other public facilities, like bridges and camp shelters, which are not open to stock,” Jim says.
Work parties are organized whenever they are needed. Sometimes because an act of nature such as a windstorm has damaged a trail, and sometimes to repair normal “wear and tear” damage from regular use. “Most work involves clearing logs that fall across the trial,” Jim says. “We also help out with trail tread repair, brushing, drainage, and trial bridge construction and repairs.” They participated in the DNR-Capitol State Forest Great Gravel Pack-in, where they used their horses and mules to resurface trails. They loaded, unloaded and spread the gravel. They also support trail crews by using their pack stock to pack tools, gear and supplies to and from the worksites that are often not accessible by motorized vehicles.
Chapter members also participate in Back Country Horsemen of Washington activities throughout the state, including trail work and general public lands support. They sponsor Leave No Trace training – which teaches the public how to properly respect and use public lands so they stay beautiful for generations to come. And again, this isn’t just for horseback riders, but anyone using the trails, campgrounds and other public lands.
They also fundraise, including hosting fun rides. The funds raised at these events, along with membership dues, are used to support the chapter’s and parent organization’s mission. “For folks who can’t get out on the trails to help on work parties, donating funds is a great way to help,” says Deb Wesselius, grant chair for LCBCH.
Since the group is about making sure public lands stay public, they also work closely with land managers and monitor legislative issues that impact the public’s access to public lands, Jim says. They are the group that fights when the government decides to close or restrict access to a trail. We are fortunate, Jim adds, that the number of trails in our county have not declined, but there are ones that are being restricted or in danger of being closed. He says it’s mostly due to lack of public funds to properly maintain them. This is where the BCH steps in and volunteers to fix the trails to keep them open. It really is thanks to them that we have so many trails for our personal use.
“Many trails that do not receive regular maintenance could be in danger and more and more the lack of Forest Service road maintenance is becoming a problem,” Jim says. “The roads need some maintenance and repairs to access trailheads. People can lobby for adequate state and federal funding to maintain existing recreational facilities and of course they can join our group.”
Both the BCH and the Lewis County Chapter are working toward increasing membership, which in turn will allow them to help more trails. The official mission of both is:
1. To perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses in America’s back country and wilderness.
2. To work to insure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use.
3. To assist the various government and private agencies in their maintenance and management of said resource.
4. To educate, encourage and solicit active participation in the wise use of the back country resource by horsemen and the general public commensurate with our heritage.
5. To foster and encourage the formation of new chapters in the state organization.
If you are interested in joining the Lewis County Backcountry Horsemen or want to learn more about current conditions of our trails and upcoming legislation, you are welcome to attend their monthly meetings. Held on the first Wednesday of each month at the Salkum Fire Hall, you do not need to be a member to attend. Please contact them to verify place and time of meeting. For more information, visit the Back Country Horsemen’s website or the Lewis County Back Country Horsemen’s website. You can also follow LCBCH on Facebook.