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Local Scenery Inspires Buffalo River Affiliates of Back Country Horsemen to Meet Challenges Ahead

The Buffalo River, the first to be designated as a National River by Congress in the early 1970’s, travels eastward in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas. One of the few remaining rivers in the lower 48 states without a system of dams, its waters freely flow over swift running rapids and through quiet pools as it makes it’s its way between massive bluffs and hardwood forests for its 150 mile length, 135 of which are managed by the National Park Service. The beauty of this region has been the inspiration for members of the Buffalo River Affiliate of Back County Horsemen to work to keep the wilderness area open for equestrian use.

“Who will do the work,” was the question Affiliate then President Peggy Thompson asked herself one day while sitting on a bluff high above the river, watching the silver ribbon of water rushing by below. “That day the water was sparkling, tumbling, and rushing on its way to the sea. The late winter and early spring rains had cleaned and brought new life to the flow of the river and in that I found the inspiration for our group to meet the challenge that we face. We must never lose the privilege to ride our horses in this wild and glorious place through crisp, clear water, the splendor of autumn leaves, fields of spring and summer flowers, and winter scenes of magnificent bluffs and rocks,” Thompson explained. To this end, the Buffalo River Affiliate has set its sights on protecting equestrian access to the wilderness area following the guiding principles of its parent organization, Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA). “We thank the national organization for developing a philosophy and purpose that will help us successfully meet our goal of continued horse and stock use in the Buffalo National River wilderness area,” said Thompson.

Working to insure that public lands stay open for recreational riding and assisting the various government and private agencies in the maintenance and management of these lands are two principles of BCHA that the Buffalo River Affiliate adopted early on, and each helped the group accomplish a great deal of work over the course of 2007. Other equestrian groups joined with Affiliate members for work days spent clearing brush, building water bars, and removing fallen trees from many sections of the trail system, particularly in areas that rely solely on volunteer efforts. One group in particular took it upon themselves to clear overhanging brush each time they rode, making a point of traveling the entire trail system over several months. “Not only did everyone who participated come away with a feeling of great satisfaction having accomplished so much, our work was noticed by other horsemen using the trails, as well as Park Service staff;” Thompson noted. Looking ahead, the group is planning a clean up of the Lower Buffalo Wilderness in cooperation with Park Service Rangers and the Ozark Society, a regional hiking group, to remove trash from abandoned hunting camps.

In keeping with another BCHA stated purpose, that of educating, encouraging, and soliciting active participation in the wise use of wilderness areas by both horsemen and the general public, the Buffalo River Affiliate organized a Leave No Trace (LNT) presentation for its members as well as Park Service staff on a beautiful fall day in October. The presentation was followed with a scenic trail ride that included the Park Service members, a first time experience for some and a great team-building experience for all! The groups in-coming President successfully completed a LNT training course with plans for sessions with Affiliate members, Forest Service, and Park Service staff, as well as with youth groups and members of other equestrian clubs over the course of 2008. Other chapter members attended the well regarded International Mountain Biking Association Land Manager Seminar as well as the American Endurance Ride Association Master Trail & Trail Care Training workshop to learn new trail maintenance techniques.

The Buffalo group is hopeful that their efforts will inspire other horsemen to form additional BCHA affiliates across Arkansas that can work together to protect equestrian access throughout Arkansas’ public lands. “Looking ahead, our goals include helping to foster and encourage the formation of new groups who share in our mission, giving horsemen a strong and positive presence statewide. This is an important part of maintaining a good working relationship with land managers who might otherwise not recognize that horsemen are committed to caring for the land they use,” said Thompson. It is also another way in which the Buffalo River Affiliate is using the principles of BCHA to protect the beautiful wilderness area they feel so fortunate to be able to use. In 2007, the group contributed an impressive 1,668 volunteer hours of trail work and 685 volunteer hours of educational outreach. If you would like to help, please contact the Buffalo River Affiliate President Jacque Alexander at Jacque.alexander@arkansas.gov

Buffalo River Affiliate is part of the Back Country Horsemen of America, a 16,000 member national organization that promotes recreational riding and stock use on public lands. To learn more, please go to http://www.backcountryhorse.com or telephone toll free 888-893-5161.

 

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