From: Louise Pedersen
Date: Fri, May 20, 2022 at 11:33 AM
Subject: BCHBC feature

Hello all,

As part of our ‘It takes a community’ features series, the latest edition is on you – Back Country Horsemen of BC. Thanks to Rose and Linda for talking to Ryan Stewart. I think it’s an excellent piece about your organization and the role of trail stewards, volunteers and community building. We’ll feature it in next week’s Outdoor Recreation Report.

Louise Pedersen
Executive Director | Outdoor Recreation Council of BC

The “Piece” runs as follows:

The equestrian community amplifies their small membership with an outsize effort to build and maintain infrastructure.

In a time when trails, roads, campgrounds, rivers and lakes are busier than ever, it’s important to remember that it takes a community to make fun possible. This story is part of a series of profiles on the people who work behind the scenes in B.C., so you can have that special moment today.

Today the South Canoe Trail Network is best known as a mountain bike destination. On the edge of Salmon Arm, a mix of trails climbs up, down and around a hillside and also connects to the Larch Hills Traverse, a mountainous route to Sicamous. But unbeknown to most trail runners, hikers and bikers, the original trail builders here arrived in a saddle and were communing with their horse. Like in a lot of trail networks, as mountain biking and trail running grew in popularity, horse ownership and equestrian traffic were declining. Soon the mountain bikers were the only people maintaining the trails at South Canoe.

“The mountain bikers thought we were a bunch of old rich ladies who did nothing to support trail maintenance,” says Linda Buchanan, a member of Back Country Horsemen of BC (BCHBC), an equestrian organization with chapters across the province. “The problem was they had a point. They had never seen the equestrian community helping out. We had to step up to the plate to change the mindset.”

Buchanan had just moved to the area and helped breathe new life into the local chapter of the BCHBC. Members started showing up on horseback to South Canoe trail maintenance events and work parties, changing the perception of the equestrian community.

“We hauled 4,000 pounds of rock crush onto the multi-use trails in one day,” she says. “We showed them the impact we can have. It was a turning point for us all working together.”

This is a common story across the province, says Rose Schroeder, the vice president of the BCHBC. From the Salmon-Brewster Equine Trail on Vancouver Island to the new horse camp in Kane Lake near Merritt, the equestrian community may be small but it plays an outsize role in trail development and infrastructure building in the province.

While it can seem like trail ferries build trails, brush back vegetation, clear fallen trees, fix bridges and fill in potholes, the truth is it takes thousands of hours of hard work to construct and maintain the hundreds of thousands of kilometres of trails in the province. Most of it is done by volunteers, like the members of the BCHBC. Volunteer leadership works through all the red tape, fundraises money for out-of-pocket costs, and organizes contractors or more volunteers to do the actual work.

“I don’t think the public realizes what it takes to maintain trails,” says Schroeder. While the BCHBC does build new trails, they focus more of their efforts on maintaining what’s already there. It’s a massive job.. She budgets several years to commission the necessary studies, fill out the paperwork and receive permission, hundreds of thousands of dollars in material and contractor costs, thousands of volunteer hours, and years of actual on-the-ground work.

And while every horse trail is a hiking trail, not every hiking trail is a horse trail. Bridges need more engineering and strength, sightlines need to be good for safe interaction with other users, and forage and water sources are essential. If the horseback riding community doesn’t maintain their own trails, no one else will.

“Because we’re a smaller user group, it’s easy to get squeezed out and forgotten,” says Schroeder. “If we’re not active we lose equestrian trails to mountain bikes and ATVs. We have to work hard to amplify our voice.”

On Vancouver Island, they’ve worked with several other organizations and partners to turn an abandoned logging railway into a 41-kilometre trail linking three equestrian camps through the forest between Campbell River and Sayward. In Manning Provincial Park, BC Parks helped construct a horse camp. And between Merritt and Princeton, they worked with Recreation Sites and Trails BC to develop the Kane Equestrian Camp.

It was an especially successful project, says Schroeder. It turned winter cross country ski trails into summer horseback riding trails and included the expansion of an existing campsite with more sites and corals. More than 32 volunteers helped out with construction, investing more than 650 hours of labour, not including all the planning, meetings and materials sourcing.

Since 2000, Schroeder says, BCHBC members have volunteered more than $1.6-million in value to infrastructure projects, mostly maintaining and restoring trails. The payback comes from seeing others enjoy the hard work, says Buchanan.

“I love to see snowshoe tracks and hiking boot prints on the trail,” she says. “It means people are out using the trails. It means my efforts are helping others to enjoy being outdoors.”