Thanks to Hard Work by Back Country Horsemen, It’s Happy Trails to Packwood Lake

Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Trail Is Clear and Open for Hikers, Bikers and Riders
By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

The parking lot at the Packwood Lake Trail 78 trailhead in the Cowlitz Valley vicinity of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest was packed with the cars and trucks of wilderness trails enthusiasts Saturday morning. They were there to celebrate National Trails Day, the nationwide premier event of the American Hiking Society and the kick-off to the summer season of hiking, biking and riding.

The Lewis County Chapter of the Back County Horsemen of Washington usually tries to beat the public to the trail.

“But we couldn’t even get into the parking lot until this week,” said Doc Wesselius, president of the local BCHW chapter. “There was still too much snow.

They usually like for us to get the trail open before Memorial Day, but not this year.”

The “they” of which Doc speaks is the U.S. Forest Service-Cowlitz Valley Ranger District. The LCC-BCHW partners with the USFS to help maintain trails in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District.

The group works to clear the trails of fallen logs, obstructions and trim the overgrown brush back from the trails throughout the Cowlitz Valley.

“You know how they always say, ‘Somebody’s gotta do it,’” said LCC-BCHW member Sherri Wright, Silver Creek. “Well, we’re that somebody.”

Clearing Trail
Saturday morning, the LCC-BCHW members met at the Packwood Lake trailhead with horses, mules and packs loaded down with chain saws, hand saws, axes and hard hats.

Safety is such an important part of this group’s day, they didn’t mount up until they gathered together for a safety meeting, led by trail boss Lance Holdt, of Winlock.

Lance warned the crews that the trails were still holding snow and the trails would be filled with hikers and bikers.

The horsemen split up into two crews, each heading down the trail in a different direction, working through 4.5 miles of trail, meeting somewhere in the middle. Doc and Deb Wesselius had scouted the trail the day before and knew the state of the trails.

“The biggest blow down we’ve got is only 20 inches,” said Holdt, “so it shouldn’t be too bad.”

Outside of the designated wilderness area, the crews were able to use chain saws to cut through logs. Inside of the wilderness area, the work suddenly got tougher — hand saws and axes only.

“But it’s nothing like we had to cut out last year,” said Jim Thode, Onalaska. “We use two 6-foot-long crosscut saws on a 40-inch log.”

Last year, the LCC-BCHW cleared 111 miles of trail from March through September.

“We stay busy,” said Deb Wesselius.

The club is led by retired veterinarian, Doc Wesselius, and his wife, Deb.

“We have adopted two horse camps — Cody Horse Camp and the Green River Horse Camp — we’ve hauled in supplies and resources for trail builders and we help maintain the surrounding trails.”

Deb said the group also sponsors training classes for would-be packers and supports the Leave No Trace Basic Skills classes in Randle each year. The group also sponsors day rides and overnight campouts throughout the year, and enjoys meeting together for potlucks and other events.

“We also have a lot of fun,” Deb said.

And that is something to which this Chronicle freelance reporter can testify — they are a lot of fun.

Thank you, Doc and Deb, for the day and thank you, Lacey, for the ride.

If you enjoy riding trails, are interested in joining the Back Country Horsemen of Washington and would like more information, go to www.bchw.org to learn more about the organization.
•••
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at kz@tds.net.
•••
Stop, Stand, Speak: Passing Horses Safely on the Wilderness Trails
By The Chronicle
It is always a good idea to take care when passing horses and riders on the road, but it especially important in wilderness areas where any misstep along the narrow trails with steep drop-offs can turn a pleasant outing into tragedy in mere moments.

When approaching riders on foot STOP and make your presence known to the horse and rider as soon as you spot them on the trail. As you approach, stop and ask the rider what he would like you to do to safely pass by. It is very important to wait for instructions from the rider. Every encounter you have with a horse along the trail will be different because each horse is in a different stage in their training and development.

The rider will probably ask you to step up off the trail and allow the horses to pass you. If so, it is very important that you STAND where the horse can see you. Don’t hide behind a tree or crouch down. A horse is a prey animal; a predator would hide or crouch down.

You need to distinguish yourself as human and not a predator, so SPEAK to the horse and rider to establish that you are a human and friendly.

If you have a dog with you on the trail, make sure the dog is on a leash and hold the dog close to you as the horses pass by.

If you are driving a motorized vehicle, as soon as you see the horsemen, pull to the side of the trail, stop and turn off your engine. Take off your helmet to show the horse that there is a human face underneath the Darth Vader mask. Talk to the horses as they go by.

“The horse just sees you as a noisy monster if you leave the helmet on,” said Deb Wesselius.

It is very important to wait to restart your engines until the horses are a good distance away, Wesselius said, “If you start up their engines as soon as we go by, the horse may think that something is coming after them.”

Wait until you are given the okay from the horsemen to start back up again.
•••
Back County Horsemen of Washington
By The Chronicle
To learn more about the BCHW and the local chapter, go to www.lcbch.org or call chapter president Doc Wesselius, 736-6106.

The LCC-BCHW welcome new members interested in trail riding, campouts, clearing trails and making a difference by learning and teaching methods of responsible use of our public lands. Membership rates are $49 per family or $36 for an individual.

BCHW is a 501(c)(3) organization. Membership dues are tax deductible and trail clearing projects are partially funded with federal grant money.

Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month (except July, September and December) in the Salkum Fire Hall on U.S. Highway 12 at 7 p.m.