Horsemen host statewide gathering of trail maintenance volunteers

Posted 8/13/19

With much of their summer volunteer work finished, it was time for the Wyoming Back Country Horsemen of America to celebrate.

More than 100 volunteers with the non-profit organization met at the …

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Horsemen host statewide gathering of trail maintenance volunteers


With much of their summer volunteer work finished, it was time for the Wyoming Back Country Horsemen of America to celebrate.

More than 100 volunteers with the non-profit organization met at the historic Sunlight Basin ranger station on Saturday for the state rendezvous. The gathering made for some down time from their typical days together maintaining much of Wyoming’s trail systems. The state organization’s seven chapters take turns hosting the three-day party. This year the task fell on the Shoshone chapter, made up mostly of Park County residents.

The weekend was mostly about fun and sharing stories and adventure with members of the nonprofit group.

“This is our chance to enjoy the fruits of our labor,” said Rick Adair, president of the Shoshone chapter.

Participants joined in on group rides on mountain trails, games, meals and to discuss priorities.

“The camaraderie that we share is something a lot of people desire,” Adair said.

The Shoshone chapter clears an average of 150 miles of the north zone of the Shoshone National Forest’s more than 900 miles of trails. It’s tough work for crews, clearing fallen trees and brush, fixing eroded sections and building and repairing infrastructure, said Barry Reiswig, Cody resident and state chairman for the organization. Being a member means volunteering hundreds of hours of labor a year, but it comes with benefits.

“This is a good way to mix with other people with similar interests and learn horsemanship,” he said.

The local chapter is the state’s most active and one of the top crews in the country. But manual labor isn’t the only challenge the group faces. The group actively lobbies state and federal officials for important legislation and funding.

“When the Legislature tried to get public lands taken away from the feds, we were very vocal,” Reiswig said. “Efforts will not die in the [state] Legislature. Every session we have to go down there and pound on desks.”

The retired federal employee was formerly the manager of the National Elk Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Reiswig is one of the state organization’s best tools in lobbying congress and working with federal agencies, Adair said. Funding for trail maintenance is the primary issue.

“We work with many organizations attempting to secure funding for trail maintenance,” Reiswig said, adding, “The current administration didn’t want any money to go to trails, but Congress put a bunch of money in the budget for trails.”

Reiswig credits U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for her help in securing recent federal funding.

“She was very helpful to us and we really appreciate it,” he said.

Nationwide trail maintenance costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

“For me, that’s a lot of money,” Reiswig said. “But if you look at that on the huge scope of the federal budget, it’s small. Most federal legislators consider that chicken scratch.”

Hours recorded by Shoshone chapter volunteers, if paid by the hour like subcontracted crews, represents a gift to trail users of about $150,000 a year, he said. The group receives financial assistance, but all of the money is used to buy materials and tools for projects. Volunteers pay their own expenses, including funding the rendezvous out of their own pockets.

The Shoshone National Forest’s north zone partnership coordinator said the organization is one of the agency’s greatest partners.

“They do more than just trail maintenance, they keep tabs on the condition of our trailhead infrastructure and replace or make repairs when needed,” said Andrea Maichak, recreation staff officer for the northern district. “It’s not easy work.”

She was thrilled to have the state gathering choose the Sunlight Basin Ranger Station as their venue.

“We manage five historic ranger stations in the north zone that have been used since the beginning of the forest to manage and administer this forest,” Maichak said. “We were really happy to have Back Country Horsemen be able to host this event at one of the historic stations.”

The station was established in 1905 and the current facilities were built in the mid-1930s. Shoshone chapter volunteers brought in temporary corrals, feed and water to accomodate dozens of stock brought in for the event. And they worked Sunday to break camp and clean the area after the event ended.

Work preparing and to clean up after the 22nd state rendezvous was all worth it for Reiswig.

“This was our chance to go and have fun, getting together with volunteers from all over the state,” he said. The work is of utmost importance for the back country equestrian sports enthusiast.

“If you don’t clear the trails,” he said, “they’ll be gone.”