Hike, Bike, Run, or Ride Priest Lake Trails? Thank a Horse!

Summer days draw outdoor enthusiasts to the Priest Lake area in droves, but not everyone is content to merely linger by the lake. The nearby trail systems attract hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders who access the backcountry on a network of trails leading from the shoreline to the surrounding mountain tops. Winter storms and spring melt-off take a heavy toll on the conditions of these trails, and the US Forest Service is hard-pressed to keep up with annual maintenance. That’s where the Priest River Valley Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen comes in, providing true horsepower to service projects across the region.

The Backcountry Horsemen of America is a national nonprofit organization with 174 state and local chapters across the country, including 14 chapters in Idaho and 33 chapters in Washington. Volunteers with BCH are dedicated to keeping trails open for all user groups, so anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit a downfall-free backcountry trail likely has a BCH member to thank for it, whether for the actual clearing or the support BCH members provide to other trail workers. The type of work they do was once the standard method of trail building and maintenance across National Forest Lands, as the USFS at one time kept its own pack strings for annual summer projects. There are a handful of Forest Service pack strings remaining, but the majority of the work has been turned over to volunteers willing to give up ride time in favor of giving back to the wider trail community.

Clearing the trail. Photo courtesy of Priest River Valley Back Country Horsemen
Clearing the trail. Photo courtesy of Priest River Valley Back Country Horsemen

The Priest River Valley Chapter of the BCH kicks off the summer trail riding season with an annual Memorial Day weekend work party. This year’s event attracted enough volunteers to enable the group to clear 42 miles of trail in the course of a single weekend, including the popular Navigation Trail to Upper Priest Lake, the Woodrat and Bulldog Trail systems, and the Chipmunk Rapids trails. For the rest of the summer, the Priest River Valley Chapter works closely with the Forest Service to provide support to both the USFS and volunteer crews.

Projects that may otherwise be too difficult can be made manageable with their help. Using the superior muscle power of horse pack strings, tools and equipment can be moved to remote backcountry locations much more easily. One upcoming project of the Priest River Valley Chapter is to pack in camp equipment for a youth volunteer crew on the Upper Priest River Trail, thereby facilitating the next generation’s ability to get outdoors and give back.

Moose Ridge trail ride. Photo: Sherry Mundt
Moose Ridge trail ride. Photo: Sherry Mundt

Want to help like a Backcountry Horsemen but lack a horse or the skills of a packer? Everyone can try one activity promoted by the Priest River Valley Chapter: the “Pick Up Trash Challenge.” It’s as easy as picking up three pieces of trash you find on every outing. Of course, the difficulty factor is far greater when one is perched atop an equine partner at 15 hands high (a 15-hand horse is five feet tall at the withers), so perhaps an average hiker or mountain biker can pick up more than three pieces. Learn more at: Prvbch.com. //

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