Disentangled: Back Country Horsemen clear Grinnell

Posted 1/2/01

The trees range from a few inches in diameter to 18 inches and more. Trees tumbling haphazardly, make it nearly impossible for riders and difficult for hikers to traverse the sometimes steep and confining terrain.

To allow horses with panniers to …

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Disentangled: Back Country Horsemen clear Grinnell


{gallery}07_16_09/backcountry{/gallery} Horsewoman Monica Reiswig of Cody crosses a swift-flowing West Grinnell Creek on Saturday during the Back Country Horsemen's effort to repair and clear trails of down timber. The local chapter's work makes it easier for riders and hikers to visit the Shoshone National Forest's pristine locales. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers Over the weekend, the Shoshone chapter of the Back Country Horsemen toiled, clearing trails accessing east and west Grinnell creeks on the North Fork of the Shoshone River.Instead of Winchesters, saws are strapped in saddle scabbards to cut trees that have fallen across the trail. Seventeen riders mount up.

The trees range from a few inches in diameter to 18 inches and more. Trees tumbling haphazardly, make it nearly impossible for riders and difficult for hikers to traverse the sometimes steep and confining terrain.

To allow horses with panniers to navigate, the trails must be 60 inches wide, said Powell member Mike Hudson.

They remove a lot of trees, but the riders also install gates and repair corrals all over the Shoshone National Forest, Hudson said.

The group strings out in three groups.

At the first stop, Jim Hanchett of Powell swings from his saddle, grabbing a saw.

It's a gorgeous Saturday morning. Sunlight slants through the trees in dusty soft beams and above, the openings in the canopy resemble skylights with a silken blue veil.

The air is a smorgasbord of refreshment: Flowers, grass, sweet pine needles, rich earth, horse sweat and now, fresh sawdust.

Hanchett saws through the downed tree lying crosswise across the trail. Judging from the other fresh cut logs, other Horsemen have already cleared some trees.

This chapter of Horsemen is by far the most active in Wyoming, said Ray Link, state Horsemen director and Powell member.

They're a humble lot. Nobody is seeking praise for their efforts, Link said.

There are more than 100 members in the Shoshone chapter. There are eight chapters across the state, with roughly 500 Wyoming members and around 15,000 Horsemen across the country, Link said.

“Trying to make things better,” Link said. “That's a lot of manpower that care.”

The U.S. Forest Service is spread thin, although Link said a crew will work on Shoshone Forest trails this year.

So far this summer on the North Fork, the volunteers have cleared Mormon Creek and Grinnell creeks.

The Horsemen will be clearing and repairing trails until mid-August, said Powell member Jim Hanchett.

Hikers or riders can witness their handiwork on many paths where passage has been hacked through log jams.

Much of the work is in wilderness areas, so chain-saws are nixed. Their saw sizes vary, depending on the thickness of a tree.

The trees fall randomly like gigantic prickly toothpicks dumped from a box. At times there is scarcely room for the Horsemen to maneuver horses and crews.

Horsemen? It should be Horsewomen as well. Women are on the job too, including Monica Reiswig of Cody, who loaned this reporter her husband Barry's horse to cross a scary spring-swollen creek.

Everybody works hard, including the ladies.

The sounds are harmonious. West Grinnell blowing down its precipitous course like wind whispering through branches and the gratifying resonance of saws rasping through wood.

Horseman Bruce Fauskee's son, Bryce, rides too. Bryce suffers from spina bifida, a neurological impairment.

Bryce's legs don't work so good, but that doesn't stop him. He drags himself on his butt to limb trees. Bruce offers some help returning Bryce to the saddle, but mostly Bryce is on his own, which he seems to prefer. Grasping the saddle horn, he drags himself up, hoisting his legs over the saddle while his horse kindly waits.

“That's a million dollar horse,” Bruce said.

It is hard work for everybody, and Bryce is no exception, but like the others, Bryce is pleased to be working in the forest with the others.

“I count myself fortunate to have this opportunity,” Bryce said.

Bruce Mennel and Bob Bessler, both of Powell, heave a saw through a tree wedged across the trail. It's a thick one, probably measuring close to two feet in diameter.

“When are you going to get the motor started on that?” jokes Mennel.

It is grueling, but when the boys tire, two other Horsemen eagerly replace them.

Finally, the tree is sawed through. The group lifts the free end to drag off the trail, allowing it to rest with other horizontal trees.

With two exceptions, all are aged 60 and up. Bessler said the group would like to recruit some younger people.

These folks may be in their golden years, but the fresh air and hard work softens the wrinkles and puts a spring in their step.

It is an endless series of riding and stopping constantly to clear the trail clogged with trees in a chaotic jumble.

Still, the riders are game. They exchange good-humored banter on horseback or at their work stations like old friends.

“We value our partners, and are fortunate to have an engaged and generous constituency,” said Susan Douglas, Shoshone National Forest public affairs in Cody. “The Back Country Horsemen enhance the stewardship of the Shoshone by devoting many hours to maintaining the Shoshone's trail system.”

Does the service appreciate the Horsemen's efforts?

“Absolutely,” Douglas said, “their involvement is critical to the maintenance of our trail system.”

“If it wasn't for groups like this, we wouldn't see a lot of those trails,” Link said. “They would just grow over.

“They're people that care about this forest,” Link said.