Photo courtesy of Bill Ford

Only one feed trough at the horse camp was destroyed by the Crescent Mountain Fire.

Popular site provides access to many trails

As the Crescent Mountain Fire burned tens of thousands of acres up the Twisp River, many in the local and regional horseback riding community worried that a favorite horse camping site, the Twisp River Horse Camp, would be lost. But as the flames receded, there was some good news.

Bill Ford, who joined the Back Country Horsemen in Washington state in the late 1970s and is an active member of the Methow Valley chapter, went out to look at the damage at the horse camp on Sept. 20.

“Relief,” he said he felt. “Relief that it had made it. That was the big one. There was a lot of concern by a lot of people that thought it was burned. I think we got lucky,” Ford said.

The Horse Camp is just over 22 miles from Twisp and provides a dozen sites for horse trailers, as well as feed troughs and water for stock. It was built in 1988 in partnership between the Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen and the U.S. Forest Service and has been the only horse camp in the Methow Valley for decades. The camp provides access to several popular trails in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the Lake Chelan/Sawtooth Wilderness, including South Creek Trail and trails to North Lake and Twisp Pass.

Ford reported that only one highline (horse tie) was taken down by a fallen tree and one picnic table was burned. The camp bulletin board and bathroom made it, as did two important bridges that provide access to nearby riding trails.

Ford said the campground — and the surrounding area — had been overgrown with underbrush.

“We kept saying it wasn’t a matter of if, it’s when [it would burn]. And when happened — and it’s ugly,” Ford said.

He added, however, that the fire cleared away a lot of the brush. There are a few hazardous trees that will need to be taken down. “But with a little work we can make it look good again and next year when it greens up I think the horse camp will look a whole lot better than it does right now,” Ford said.

Popular trails

There are several excellent riding trails from the horse camp that access mountain lakes and wilderness areas. Many of those trails have burned, Ford said. It will be a big job for the Forest Service and the Back Country Horsemen to clear those trails, and could take more than a year. Popular trails on Forest Service land that burned in the Diamond Creek fire last year are still not open, Ford said, and he does not want that to be the case with the trails that lead out of Twisp River Horse Camp.

“I don’t think that’s acceptable. If the Forest Service can’t clear the trails, we’ll do it,” Ford said. “Twisp River Horse Camp is pretty important. People from all over the state, not only locally, were worried and concerned about the horse camp.”

Ford said the Back Country Horsemen will likely prioritize clearing three trails that appear to have experienced the least amount of fire — North Lake Trail, South Creek Trail and Twisp Pass. Based on the map of fire damage, he said Lewis Lake and Scatter Lake are likely very badly burned and will take a lot more work to clear out.

Each year, Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen members put in hundreds of hours of volunteer time clearing and maintaining trails on public land in the valley. They are wrapping up construction of a new horse camp at Loup Loup Pass that should be open next spring/early summer.

Photo courtesy of Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen

Volunteers with the Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen at a Twisp River Horse Camp clean up in 2017. Bill Ford is pictured second from left.

Photo courtesy of Bill Ford

A highline used to tie up horses at the camp was damaged at one of the sites when a burned tree fell across the steel cable.