Back country horsemen volunteered hundreds of hours to improve local trails

Photo by Jan Ford Tread work on a trail.

Photo by Jan Ford

By Ann McCreary

Back country horsemen from around the state volunteered almost 1,800 hours clearing and improving trails on U.S. Forest Service land in the Methow Valley during a five-day work party over the Fourth of July weekend.

About 75 members of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) sawed out hundreds of downed trees, cleared overgrown vegetation, installed new culverts and built turnpikes to improve riding and hiking on eight trails in the Methow Valley Ranger District.

The BCHW members were joined in the trail work by about 15 members of the local Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen (MVBCH), which hosted the statewide volunteers during their stay in the Methow Valley.

Many more members of the Methow Valley chapter worked on logistics for the event, including setting up and taking down the camp at the Horse Camp on Twisp River Road, where about 90 people and 75 horses and mules were encamped June 30–July 4.

Each year the BCHW selects a location for a trail work party, and this year the Methow Valley was chosen. The volunteer labor is a big gift to everyone who uses those trails, said Jennifer Zbyszewski, recreation program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District.

Photo by Mike McHugh

Photo by Mike McHugh

With a trail crew of only seven people, including the trail boss, the ranger district can’t possibly maintain all the trails that need it, Zbyszewski said.

“Volunteer groups like the backcountry horsemen and Washington Trails Association are vital to our ability to do maintenance,” she said.

“The local chapter [of Back Country Horsemen] gives us hundreds of hours each year. They’re the ones who suggested to the state that they have their annual work party here. It was an incredible opportunity for us. They work so hard and care so much about trails,” Zbyszewski said.

Much work needed

Trails are especially in need of work this year, due to an unusually high number of downed trees.

“On the West Fork Buttermilk Creek trail there were more than 500 trees down,” said Jan Ford, a member of MVBCH. “The horsemen cleared about 100 trees in 3 miles.”

“We have an incredible amount of trees down this year,” Zbyszewski said. “There was something about the weather this winter that brought a lot of trees down. I’m hearing that from other districts on the east side of the Cascades too.”

Every year the Methow Valley horsemen donate hundreds of hours clearing the popular Twisp River Trail and other trails up to wilderness boundaries with chainsaws. Inside the wilderness they use handsaws to remove trees, and work on building bridges and turnpikes and clearing overgrown vegetation.

Photo by Kathy Young

Photo by Kathy Young

This year the state and local back country horsemen worked on eight trails in Twisp River drainage and the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness.

The volunteers kept a record of their hours, Ford said. They worked 580 hours on #401 South Creek Trail; 198 hours on #407 Williams Creek; 262 hours on #408 War Creek; 51 hours on #411 West Fork of Buttermilk; 426 hours on #413 North Creek; 106 hours on #428 Louis Lake; 71 hours on #432 Twisp Pass; and 85 hours on #440 Twisp River Trail.

Of that total, “506 of those hours were skilled, which includes chain sawing, cross-cut sawing, and packing,” Ford said.

In addition to the trail work, 397 hours were spent on support activities, including administration, meal preparation, and carrying out “leave no trace” practices, Ford said.

Locals started earlier

Before the state volunteers arrived, the local Methow Valley chapter put in about 280 hours cutting out logs on the trails to wilderness boundaries. Chapter members also scouted the trails in the wilderness to determine where work was needed most, she said.

In addition to sawing out trees and cutting back vegetation, the horsemen built a 100-foot long turnpike — an elevated section of trail crossing a boggy area — on North Lake Trail, installed culverts on Williams Creek Trail, and water bars on other trails to divert water off trails, Ford said.


Photo by Paul Seibel

“We were just so fortunate they [WSBH] chose the Methow Valley,” said Betty Wagoner, a member of the local chapter. “This was an unbelievable gift to the trail system.”

The Washington Trail Association (WTA), which also works regularly on trails in the Methow Ranger District, is expected to arrive soon for its annual contribution to trail maintenance, Zbyszewski said.

“WTA will be going up Robinson Creek Trail and tying in with our crew on the Middle Fork of the Pasayten Trail,” she said.

The ranger district will also get help from students and counselors in the Student Conservation Association. The group will stay for a couple of weeks near the old Pasayten airport, an abandoned airstrip in the Pasayten Wilderness, and will help clear the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail, Zbyszewski said.