February 29, 2016
By Sarah Wynne Jackson
Back Country Horsemen of America makes huge strides every year in their effort to keep trails open for horse use. One secret to their success is their habit of doing more than the job requires. If they’re fixing a trail tread, they’ll pick up the litter they find along the way. If they’re installing a bridge, they’ll trim that low-hanging branch, too. If they’re teaching youth how to pack, they’ll also give them a hot lunch and cool t-shirts.
Back Country Horsemen of Washington recently went above and beyond in honoring their mission statement “to assist government agencies in their maintenance of public lands.”
A Win-Win Solution
BBQ Flats, an open, level pine forest in the Wenas area south of Ellensburg, provides trail users access to higher country, where canyons, ranges, and rolling slopes offer stunning views of several mountain ranges. These lands, with popular multi-use trails, are managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The entrance road to BBQ Flats crossed private property, resulting in intermittent access. To ensure recreation opportunities, DNR recently traded 80 acres with private land owners and purchased an additional 560 acres with plans to develop dispersed camping in the flats. The land swap included provision for an access road with fencing on both sides to protect private property rights.
Under the direction of DNR land managers, the Wenas Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Washington supervised 30 volunteers from five BCHW chapters - Wenas, Yakima, Pierce, Lewis, and Tahoma – in a three-day work party. They planned to tear out and dispose of 1500 feet of old fencing on one side of the road.
Not surprisingly, these Back Country Horsemen showed up with more than enough equipment and enthusiasm to match. Using a tractor with a backhoe, two tractors with front-end loaders, two quads with trailers, plus every tool imaginable to dig post holes in rocky terrain, not only did they accomplish that goal in short order, they also installed 1000 feet of new fence.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
After DNR personnel completed the 1500-foot boundary fence, Back Country Horsemen of Washington volunteers returned to construct an 8000-foot long elk fence on the other side of the 80-foot wide access and property boundary. Five BCHW chapters - Wenas, Pierce, Lewis, Tahoma, and Traildusters – attached fencing to the 800 metal posts previously set in place by a private company.
During the two-day work party, 35 volunteers installed 1½ miles of woven field fence, completing the lower four foot span first, then the upper four feet to create the 8-foot high wildlife barrier fence.
Determined to help DNR get the project completed, the Wenas Chapter organized a work party on National Trails Day. In scorching temperatures, 13 volunteers finished the elk fence and a wildlife migratory gate. They also made improvements to the dispersed camping area, including a graveled access road with metal entry gates, an improved loop road in the flats itself, and three vault toilets.
In recognition of the 1,406 volunteer hours Back Country Horsemen of Washington contributed to this project, DNR is planning a special appreciation and dedication lunch at BBQ Flats. The gathering will be reminiscent of the days when cattlemen met in the flats for a barbeque after fall roundup, resulting in the unusual name of this unique wild land.
About Back Country Horsemen of America
BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at-large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes regarding the use of horses and stock in wilderness and public lands.
If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website: www.bcha.org; call 888-893-5161; or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!