Many Steps Lead to Worthwhile Result
By Barbara Thomas, Mt. St. Helens Chapter
I am a member of Back Country Horsemen of Washington. Some time ago I wrote a short article for our newsletters asking members if they knew what it took to plan and execute the various work parties we schedule during the year. While I was writing the story, I remembered when my husband and I first started trail riding how we had no clue what it took to keep our local trails open in order for us to have a safe and enjoyable ride.
Like many non-members out there we assumed that our tax dollars paid the government agencies (USFS, DNR, etc.) the funds they need to maintain trails in our area. Only after joining our local chapter of BCHW were our eyes opened to the reality that it takes a dedicated group of like-minded people working with state, federal, and local entities to ensure that our trails are kept safe and clear.
The reality is that for several years most agencies have had huge budget cuts and they lack the funds and staff to monitor and maintain trail systems. Some agency staff never even visit the trails they are assigned to manage and only respond to complaints when there is a serious safety issue. Nearly all agencies depend on volunteers donating time and money to maintain or enhance their trails and facilities.
Think about riding a trail where a tree is down or where you encounter a dangerous bog. Then you go back in a few weeks or months and see that the tree has been cut out and that there is a raised dry section through the bog. Is your first thought that it was the work of the government agency that fixed it? In most cases it wasn’t.
Do you ever wonder about the planning that goes into volunteer work parties? It’s kind of like a puzzle trying to fit all the pieces together. You start by riding trails and looking at the trouble spots. Are the trails too muddy, limbs and debris all over the place, a section that might be an accident waiting to happen? Work has to be planned for sections that need culverts, turnpikes or other materials. This has to be planned out, with an estimate for costs and who should (or will) fund the cost. Next, you contact the right land manager staff, outline your plan, and negotiate how much they are willing to help support this proposed project. This usually takes weeks of constant contact and face-to-face meetings on the trails to explain what needs to happen.
Once all the pieces are put together a call goes out to various groups to find out who is willing to come and give their time and help. We reach out to other BCHW members, local equine groups, and other trail organizations. Work party coordinators do all this and then wait for responses to our call. We worry about two things: the weather and the number of people who will actually arrive on the day of the work party. No one wants to throw a party and have no one show up!
Battle Ground Lake State Park work party had volunteers from Mount. St. Helens Chapter, Washington Trails Association and Chinook Trails Association.
It’s a lot of work. But when the plan comes together and volunteers show up, all the hours of preparation and coordinating are worth it. Work parties are always a lot of fun, with visiting and new friendships made. There is no better feeling of time well spent when you ride the trails later and note the improvements that were done which have a lasting influence on the experience of riding and hiking on our amazing local or backcountry trails.
This is what the Back Country Horsemen do. We do this because we are committed to a lifestyle of outdoor enjoyment and want to share that experience with others and future generations.
So, the next time you walk or ride a trail, remember what others have done to allow us all to benefit from these efforts. If you can, get involved and share in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Upcoming BCHW Activities and Events
- October 26 18th Annual Winery Ride & Costume Prize Ride in Zillah, WA
More events are listed at www.bchw.org/lnt/main/upcoming_events.htm
Back Country Horsemen of Washington is dedicated to keeping trails open for all users, educating stock users in Leave-No-Trace practices, and providing volunteer service to resource agencies. To learn more about BCHW go to www.bchw.org Keep up with BCHW and issues and events we are following on our state Facebook page www.facebook.com/public.bchw