Sep 28, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterEven in a state known for its cowboys, Wyoming horsemen still have to fight for what belongs to them and their animals when it comes to trail closures in the backcountry.
The Wind River Back Country Horsemen formed in 1989 and was the first Wyoming chapter of the national organization Back Country Horsemen of America.
Dick Inberg, one of the founders of the local chapter and a two-time chapter president, shared his experiences Sept. 21 with other members of the group at a 40th anniversary dinner at the Sawmill Creek campgrounds at Sinks Canyon State Park. The first club of the national organization was formed in 1973.
"We're dedicated to keeping horseshoes on public lands," Inberg said. "Our goal is to perpetuate the common sense use of horses in our backcountry, and we work for and with our public agencies to the tune of millions of dollars a year in donated labor."
Accompanied by their family members, horses, mules, horse trailers, tents and stories, the group chatted as they ate a sirloin steak dinner with corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, fruit salad, biscuits, garden salads, beans and peach cobbler. Dutch oven chef Jack Schmidt of Riverton catered the dinner and recited cowboy poetry near the campfire later in the evening.
The backcountry Horsemen of America is a national non-profit organization that works to maintain, improve and advocate for horse trails. Wyoming has eight chapters. The Wind River group comprises members from Fremont County, mainly from Riverton, Lander, Pavillion, Dubois, Shoshoni and the surrounding areas.
The chapter has more than 50 members and many have participated in the Leave No Trace training program. They have held horse packing clinics and continue to teach members about horse trailing and horse packing. They also have collaborated with Central Wyoming College and their equestrian department to offer educational programs.
Inberg said a major part of their volunteer work involves building or repairing bridges.
"We go in with our crews, our engineers and our equipment and build these bridges and fix these trails," Inberg said.
They also maintain the trail's image by cleaning up any litter or clearing the trailheads. The organization also packs supplies on their horses for the Forest Service when needed.
"We travel the trails, so we know more about the trails actually than the (U.S.) Forest Service," Inberg said. "So if we come to a trail that's in bad shape, we report it to the Forest Service, (and) if it's something they can't get to, we'll volunteer to do it."
Some of their projects include trails in Yellowstone National Park, Johnny Behind the Rocks, the Middle Fork trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, located between Pine Creek and the Sweetwater Gap ranger station.
"We cooperate with our government agencies, we work with them and we feel that by working with them we can get a cooperative effort and keep our trails open for horse use," Inberg said.
He said the volunteers also work with mountain bike and hiking groups.
Group members have described backcountry horse trailing as a vanishing activity as four-wheeler and mountain bike users increase in numbers and take over the trails. With enough complaints, Inberg said park officials simply close the trails to horse users and dedicate a trail to a specific group.
"They tend to take the easy way out and just close the doors instead of using some common sense on it," he said.
Horse manure is the main complaint, but Inberg said his group's activity on trails remains the most peaceful and quiet for wildlife and others sharing the trail. He said the chapter often is forced to fight new regulations that prohibit horse use on trails that initially were created for horses. Trails in Dubois and Yellowstone National Park, Inberg said, are in danger of being closed, and the volunteers dedicate their time and effort to regain control of those trails.
Inberg told the story of a friend from Texas who said he had to lease a ranch to be able to ride, but when Inberg took him on the trails in Wyoming, he was surprised and amazed at all of the land they could roam freely.
"The reason we're gaining so much strength nationwide is because we're drawing in these states where horse use has been cut down," Inberg said. "They've lost a lot of what they had, and they don't have places to ride anymore."
When motor vehicles use the trails, horses get spooked by their loud noises, Inberg said.
"And when horses get spooked, we get injured people," he added. "Wyoming is the last of the best, and we're under pressure to develop all of our areas."
Long-time member Carol Genaro of Hudson said the group has learned to battle against the different types of new vehicles covering the trails. The art of horse packing, she said, is an important skill that seems to be disappearing. She said the activity is "like a dying breed."
The chapter always welcomes new members and has a specific interest in attracting younger people. Inberg said most of the chapter's current members are older and have been horse trailing for many decades. The purpose in keeping the horse trails open is to continue a historic tradition and secure the use for future horsemen in America, Inberg said.
"We want to leave some of it for them," he said. "They're the ones that are going to spend their lifetime in the backcountry ... if they choose to."
The group encourages younger people and younger families who either own horses or not, to join and learn about packing and horse trailing. Inberg said he hopes younger members accept their values and carry them on.
"It's hard to hang on to our heritage ... (and) we're losing it," he said. "We're fighting a losing battle."
The chapter describes itself as a service organization with a duty to provide training and inform people about all the trails in Wyoming.
"(Members) can participate in whatever degree they want to, they can support just with a membership," Genaro said.
The Wind River Back Country Horsemen chapter meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Hudson Town Hall.
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