SHERIDAN — As the weather warms and the land dries out, outdoorsmen of all varieties will take to the trails.
Whether hiking, biking or on horseback, these trekkers will likely unknowingly owe a debt of gratitude to a small local chapter of a national organization for the lovely path they are following.
The Wyoming Back Country Horsemen of America have been cleaning and maintaining trails throughout the state since 1989 when the Riverton-Lander chapter of a Montana-based club formed.
Just two years later the second chapter in the state formed and the Cloud Peak BCH have been serving Sheridan, Buffalo and Gillette ever since.
The idea was born out of the concern of horsemen in Montana after The Wilderness Act of 1964 passed without specific identification of which uses of government owned wilderness would be considered appropriate.
The first club was formed there in 1973 and pressured legislators to add wording stating “traditional recreational saddle and pack stock use is recognized as an appropriate and historical use of wilderness.”
Today there are approximately 150 chapters nationwide with a total membership of more than 14,000 horsemen with a singular goal of protecting the people’s right and ability to use the backcountry trails.
Though there are no paid members, even at the national officer level, the club describes themselves as a “working group.”
Dwight French, president of the CPBCH, says the group will do any project they can to help keep trails open including building public trail head facilities.
Their duties include cutting back timber that has overgrown or fallen across a path and spending a great deal of time cleaning up trash.
The group lives by the motto “pack it in, pack it out” and even when on a family camping or hiking trip they vow to leave the areas they see in better condition than they found them. Recently a group even rode into the mountains on mules to break down and pack out old broken down snowmobiles that had been abandoned by riders.
Their hope is to leave no trace of man in the wilderness so future generations can have the same cherished experiences they have.
The biggest event each year is National Trails Day, held by all groups and trail enthusiasts nationally on the first Saturday in June.
Years ago, the chapter adopted a trailhead at Hole in the Wall and built highlines, created a public outhouse and painted trail signs to keep the public safe and on track. On the national working day, the group meets to provide maintenance to the items, repaint the signs, clear the paths of debris and pack out trash.
“We take care of everything we make for the community,” French said. “We also took under our belt the Buffalo Run, an 8000 acre area anyone can ride, walk or horseback on, so it’s not just trails.”
The group cleans that area and the stretch of highway along it twice a year.
But it is not just the public that is benefitting from the services of the group; their many volunteer hours help the National Forest Service stay in budget as well.
“The forest service doesn’t have the budget anymore to go around and clean all the trails, so we do what we can to help,” said French. “There are just too many trails for them to have the money and man power to maintain them all.”
The hours the volunteers log cleaning trails are recorded and sent to the Forest Service. According to the Bighorn National Forest Sheridan office, the Cloud Peak chapter personally contributed 206 hours of trail work in 2013, which equates to $3,090 in value. Since 1996, the Wyoming Back Country Horsemen of America have collectively contributed over $588,820 in volunteer labor on trails, at trailheads and in educational roles.
“We are fortunate to have a network of volunteers and partners who help us accomplish so much on the Bighorn National Forest,” said Susan Douglas of the BNF. “Volunteers are an integral part of the work we do and the Back Country Horsemen are an important part of the volunteer program”
The chapter has approximately 35 active family members and several single members, which cost $30 and $25 in member dues annually, respectively. Though the original members of the Cloud Peak group were primarily located in Buffalo, French says he has seen a shift recently and most of the group is now younger and more active people from Sheridan.
To be a member, all you need is a love of the outdoors and a commitment to keep it clean. Members do not need to own horses as most of the cleaning and maintaining is done on foot.
Though the horsemen log a lot of working hours they are always sure to make time to enjoy the fruits of their labor as well. Whether taking an hour to joy ride after a clean-up or organizing a group pleasure ride or hike, the Cloud Peak members know how to enjoy and preserve the beauty of the Wyoming Wilderness.
The next group meeting will be held April 22 at ERA Carroll Realty.