Preserving the backcountry

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Preserving the backcountry

Post by ERIC » Sun Feb 10, 2008 11:21 am

Preserving the backcountry
A shared love of riding and the outdoors brings a group of area horsemen together to restore trails and keep them open

Posted: 2/5/2008
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A local group of horsemen and women don't just get together to ride, they also volunteer their efforts to help keep trails open and intact.

The Back Country Horsemen of America was founded in 1973, and the High Sierra Chapter was founded in 1991, according to newly elected secretary Sabine McCowen.

"What we try to do is keep the backcountry open for equestrian use," McCowen said.

As areas develop, she said, "more and more trails get closed."

The High Sierra Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of America clears downed trees
and branches from biking, hiking and equestrian trails every spring.

After winter storms, the group goes out in the spring to clear downed trees or branches from biking, hiking and equestrian trails.

"We restore those so all those groups can use those again," she said.

The group also educates the equestrian community on how to "leave no trace" when they travel in the backcountry. Lessons include tips on not harming a tree's bark when tying up a horse, not letting a horse overgraze and not camping too closely to water sources.

"So, when a horse has traveled on a trail, it doesn't leave any damage or anything unwanted -- even smells -- that wouldn't be appreciated by other travelers," said McCowen, who lives in Spanish Springs.

The group works closely with the National Forest Service and annually does repairs on a historic cabin in the Markleeville, Calif., area.

"We pack materials in on horseback because there is no other way to get equipment there," McCowen said. "For example, this year we planned two overnight trips to the area -- first to assess the damage that occurred over winter, (and a) subsequent trip to repair damage."

The Back Country Horsemen group also plans events just for fun, such as a weeklong pack trip to the Sequoia and King Canyon National Forest and a horse camping trip to the Euer Valley near Truckee planned for later this year.

The group's biggest event is a trail clinic held each April at the Lemon Valley Horse Arena. Participants bring their horses, McCowen said, and the group builds trail obstacles with a variety of things that could potentially scare a horse, such as bridges, tarps, flags, balloons and other animals.

"One of our members will bring her llamas to get the horses exposed to llamas, another member will bring a four-hitch mule team," she said. "Whoever joins the clinic can expose their horse to these scary things."

McCowen said a horse's instinct is to "run first and think second," which is counterproductive to what a rider wants them to do.

"By exposing them to all of these things, we teach them to gain confidence when they are exposed to something they aren't familiar with," she said. "(The horse also) gains confidence in the handler -- the horse will learn, 'You're not going to get me hurt.'"

The High Sierra Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen meets on the third Wednesday of each month. The next meeting on Feb. 20 will be held at the Great Basin Brewery in Sparks.

For more information on the group and how to join, visit

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Re: Preserving the backcountry

Post by dave54 » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:43 pm

I do find it sad that horses get so much negative publicity, and a bad rap from pedestrians. Most of the backcountry trails were originally built for horses. Backpacking is a relatively recent activity, developing in numbers only after WWII, and seems to be on a decline now.

Equestrians are certainly not an adversary to backpackers, they are an ally and should be respected as such. With the recent news report that outdoor recreation use is in serious decline among youth, we should be praising any organization that is working to maintain the trails and increasing backcountry use.

Besides, on several occasions a horse group has invited me over to share their campfire. Given a choice between some powdered drink and dehydrated food, and grilled steak and cold beer... well, it isn't a hard choice. :D
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Re: Preserving the backcountry

Post by AldeFarte » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:30 am

I agree Dave. Tho I have never shared a campfire with a horse outfit,and I have often resented the ease of passage of the passengers over country we had hard fought to acheive, there needs to be horses in the backcountry. They belong there as much as I. They benifit the backcountry much more than they abuse it. Those days are mostly gone.I remember the days when I believe a person could travel the JMT and survive very well on their trash heaps.An analogy was a time when a friend and me were sailing wing and wing down Nuka Bay. 3 days under sail to get there. A day long fish charter went blowing by us.Should we ban power boats from the ocean ,because they can ruin your buzz? That attempt would be equally rediculous. jls :nod:

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Re: Preserving the backcountry

Post by hikerduane » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:44 am

I have mixed feelings. I have seen in lighter used areas where they have allowed the horses to dig around trees etc. Lake #5 between Desolation Wilderness and Loon Lake and up north in the Thousand Lakes Wilderness. Pooch really appreciated those pork chop bones in the Marbles and I the mixed drinks.
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