The Shoshone Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen

Your Support helps us bring you programs you love go to wyomingpbs.org Click on Support and become a sustaining member or an annual member It’s easy and secure Thank you The Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen will clean and maintain 104 miles of trails this summer And they provide a big assist to the National Forest Service Their work as volunteers is tough, important, and rewarding, but their ranks are thinning We’ll visit with one of the most active Backcountry Horsemen groups in the country The Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen, next on Wyoming Chronicle Funding for Wyoming Chronicle is provided in part by The Dragicevich Foundation supporting the work of the Wyoming Community Foundation – We’re pleased to be at the Sunlight Ranger Station in the Shoshone National Forest, just about 22 miles away from Yellowstone National Park with members of the Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen Welcome to Wyoming Chronicle Visiting with us today is Howard Sanders, Deb Black, excuse me, and Bob Bessler Welcome to Wyoming Chronicle, and thank you all for joining us – Thank you for coming – First, we have a lot to learn about the Backcountry Horsemen and the work that you do Our viewers have seen a few of the pictures of the work that you’ve done in the back country in and around this part of Wyoming, but I think we’ll start with the history, Bob, and let me begin with you, to give us a little bit of background on what the Backcountry Horsemen do, and specially, what the Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen do, and how your group’s evolved – Well, we basically started somewhere near 1991 Mr. Bill Brazelton was our founding person Where he learned about back country horsemen, I don’t know, but him and another gentleman attempted to get it going at that time, and it failed He went to a meeting over in Buffalo, and I’m presuming that a couple of gentlemen from Lander chapter at that time, Mr. Al Salmonson, and another gentleman, I think, went over to present Backcountry Horsemen to some folks in Buffalo Then Bill got those two people to come to Powell, and then they tried it again, and we’ve been a chapter ever since We started in about 1993, 25 years ago We are mostly a service club We tend to have a little on the side toward a riding club, but mostly, we’re a service club – Let’s get into more detail, Deb, about the work that you do If I were to ask you to tell me, why do the Backcountry Horsemen exist in Wyoming, what would you tell me? – These are dedicated people who understand the value of the land and taking care of it They understand taking care of your animals at the end of the day It’s a hard day, but they take care of their animals first They feel the responsibility to give back, so some of the principles of the Backcountry Horsemen of America match up with us really well, and that is to use common sense to take care of the country, and manage it, to work with those who do manage it, the government entities or the private entities, to teach leave no trace principles where you don’t damage, you use it, and you move on, but you don’t leave scars, to educate youth We work with 4H, we work with, the Forest Service has a Kids In The Woods program for summer entertainment down in the valley Well, they bring them up for different educational things every summer, we help with that Teaching and mentoring is very important – Howard, how long have you been with the group, and how many people are actively involved in what I’ve come to learn is really maybe one of the most active Backcountry Horsemen groups in the country? – I’ve been with the club for about 11 years We have 90 members now Actively, sometimes I see as many as 16 or 17 when we’re out doing trail work, which is kinda nice when we’re in wilderness and it’s all by hand It’s picked up the last few years – Give me an idea of what’s on your near term agenda here

We’re filming this just before the Fourth of July, airing this in the fall What is it that you are trying to get done this summer? – We have about 104 miles of trail that we’ve agreed with the Forest Service to clean this year Our objective, of course, is to get those trails done Then, if we have time, we pick others that we’ll work on Sometimes, it’s just maybe our favorite trail, and no one else is cleaning it that summer, so we’ll try to take care of that In this area right here, we have the Elk Horn Trail, which ties into the Elk Creek Trail that we’ve already cleaned, into the Dead Indian Meadows We have Little Sunlight, which is mostly wilderness work We were gonna try to clean the Windy Trail over into Reef Creek and around East Fork Painter, but the road’s washed out, it’s gonna be a lot longer ride, so we’re gonna have to pick a different day to do that, and maybe not this weekend, but we’ll get them done – People, they’re hiking, they’re utilizing the trails, they’re riding, they’re seeing the great back country What does it mean to clean a trail? What are your tasks, Bob, when you’re out doing that work? – We don’t get, probably, as involved We clean them and make them passable Our function is not to reconstruct unless it’s entirely necessary When we get to a trail that we are cleaning, if there’s a washout, then we’re allowed to go ahead and reconstruct what’s necessary to get around that washout, but normally, we’re just clean the trail to Forest Service standards – Trees that have fell, that type of work? – That type of work, and right now, there’s a lot of that, simply because of the fires in ’88 and also the beetle problem that everybody is aware of in Wyoming There’s lots of dead trees – If your groups didn’t do this work, who would do it? – That’s one of our coalitions with the Forest Service that’s so beneficial They are in charge of keeping trails open for the public That’s one of their functions, and they don’t have the budget or the manpower to do it, so we, a number of years ago, started taking part in their cost share agreement, where they assign us trails that they want open for the public, and those are some that Howard is alluding to when we say we’ve got a certain number We clean those, and it helps them because the trails get cleaned It helps us because we make a little bit of money off the deal, and that money goes right back into trailhead projects Those are the ones that, sometimes, we’re known for, because our name is on them, and that’s where that money comes from – This is totally a volunteer outfit? – Yes, strictly volunteer When we clean the trails, we clean, essentially, a six-foot wide by 10-foot high corridor If there’s a tree across the trail, we buck it out If there are limbs that have grown into the trail, we trim those out, because you have to leave a trail open so that, if someone’s got a pack animal with panniers on, four-foot wide, you need to be able to clear that so they can get by there Also, if you meet another horse on the trail, you need to be able to get by each other Some places, you can’t just step aside, so that’s what we clean – Give me an idea of some of the challenges that your group faces, whether it’s in membership, whether it’s political challenges, and you’ll all have an opportunity to hop in, but Bob, if I were to ask you some of your near term challenges, how would you respond? What makes it kinda hard for you to do what you’d like to get done? – Well, there’s a number of things The public land issue is a major thing right now Public lands need to stay in the public hands for the public, and turning them over to the state would be, in our opinion, a certain disaster because these lands are managed by the government agency BLM Forest Service In my opinion at least, they have done an excellent job, over the years, and they will continue to do a great job The state of Wyoming does not have the resources it would take to manage the lands Sure, there’s things that the agencies do that we don’t agree with here, there, and yonder There’s always something, but for the most part, I think they really do a great job of managing our public lands – What I think I hear you saying is you have a great partnership with the federal partners that you’ve worked with? – Oh, absolutely

– What are some other challenges for your group? Like me, everyone’s aging a little bit Is it hard to recruit younger folks who are busy with families and busy with jobs? – It is, getting the word out It’s certain type of person who’s got the livestock to begin with Approaching them through 4H or different connections where we know of families that at least have the livestock, that’s a start, but we are aging out I don’t know what our average age, Howard, would be, but it’d be up there a bit – [Craig] In the 30s, tell me, right? – Plus (laughs) We wish Certainly, as we look at younger generations who are more urbanized just because the population keeps growing, they’re into their machines, and not the outdoors, but when they do have an outdoor experience, they remember it – Are you concerned that young people today, and even young people in Wyoming, don’t, for lack of a better term, value the outdoors like younger generations did, maybe, years and years ago? – I think education is the key That’s in the past, and that’s now, and it’s in the future You have to educate people about these lands, and help people understand, these public lands don’t just belong to those of us from Wyoming They belong to the person who lives in New York also They’re actual public lands, and they belong to us all, and if you can educate people on how to take care of the lands, help them understand that, when we do improved trailhead projects, we do that for several reasons One is to help disperse the use in the forest If you just have one trailhead that’s good, everybody comes there If you improve multiple trailheads, then people spread out, and then you do less damage, less impact on the environment To me, education is the key – There are some new uses that have evolved, and I’m thinking of bicycles, off-road use of people that ride mountain bikes on trails up to wilderness boundaries Has that been problematic for people that like to enjoy Forest Service trails or any trails, really, in the outdoors of Wyoming? Again, is it an education issue? How’s that evolving with people that like to utilize mountain bikes on trails? – It is education, as well as just common courtesy Whether it’s a backpacker or a bicyclist, if they’re coming up on a horse, an animal reacts to everything that they know, and if it’s something they haven’t met before, that’s a frightening thing My husband and I came over a ridge top, and there had been a group of cub scouts who had been hiking in the rain with their slickers Well, they heard our horses, so they got off the trail, and they ducked down in the bushes and were quiet When they all stood up, my horse about went over backwards We got them to talk, and then everything settled down They just need to identify what a hiker or a bicyclist is – When you approach, on a horse, someone who’s coming at you on a mountain bike, tell me what you hope happens How should that be managed? – First thing I hope for is that they’re courteous enough to slow down They have to understand that that horse is a prey animal, and everything is out to get it That’s the way they see things Guess what, they have a predator sitting on its back to start with, they’re having to contend with that If the bicyclist understands enough to slow down and talk to us so the horse can recognize them as a person, not just who knows what I live next to a highway Bicycles go by there all the time My horse would get used to it, but if they meet one up here, it’s like, what is that bicycle doing here? Fortunately, the folks that I’ve met, it’s been on an uphill grade for them, so they were off, pushing the bicycle, and they were courteous, and spoke to us, so the horses were fine with it Education, once again I have an acquaintance in Idaho that rides bicycle, and he has a little trailer he pulls behind it, and he cleans his own trails so he can mountain bike on those trails – He assists with how he wants to enjoy his recreation? – [Howard] That’s exactly right – Is it an issue for mountain bikers wanting, maybe perhaps more and more, to change wilderness laws to have access? Is that something that you’re, politically, have taken a position on, or is that something that you really don’t deal with, at least not yet? – I think our position on it is, a bicycle is a mechanical device Mechanical devices are not allowed in wilderness That’s by the law Seriously, when the law was written, sure, there weren’t bicycles there at that time, but it was written, “No mechanical devices.” That is – [Craig] I think it’s interesting that that applies to you and the work that you do In the pictures that we’re showing

to our viewers right here, you’re not clearing a lot of your trails with chainsaws – No, when we hit the wilderness, the chainsaws are packed away, stashed We get out the crosscuts, and we get some complaints sometimes, even from our members, but that’s just the way it is It’s by hand, and when we come back, we gather up the chainsaws, and go on back to the house – [Craig] Deb, our viewers right now are seeing a beautiful crosscut saw that a local artist has now touched Give us the backstory with that saw – Certainly, that’s one of our crosscut saws that has been used, and its life has depleted its ability to be sharpened again, so one of our members painted a beautiful scene on it, and we have used that for a money-making project, and that money will go to the Dano Youth Camp, where they take young people in batches, a girls’ camp and a boys’ camp, they teach them mountain skills, and then they take them up for backpacking in the mountains – It’s a beautiful little saw, it really is, it really is, that’s a great idea Bob, I assume your group communicates with each other through meetings? How does that work? – Excuse me? – [Craig] Through meetings, your group gets together periodically to meet and plan? – Yeah, we meet once a month, with the exception of the summer months, and our meeting this month is gonna be tomorrow night, right here in the meadow Yeah, we do meet every month We try to bring in a speaker of some kind, and talk about different issues and things, sometimes the Forest Service, and sometimes a game warden, that form of entertainment – Not only do you clear trails, you build corrals, and our viewers now are looking at a beautiful set of corrals that were constructed two years ago Tell me what we’re seeing, snow and all – Back when we first started, we built most of that stuff out of pipe We could get donations, at that time, through oil companies and scrap tubing That’s kinda dried up on us now, so we certainly could use some more We started using panels for our corral construction now One thing, the market, it’s kinda dried up on us, and the other thing is, it got too cost– – Prohibitive? – What? – Prohibitive? – Too expensive – The labor got too high to hire welders and whatever, so we started building them out of panels The ones you’re probably seeing there are the south fork of the wood, and that’s an interesting thing in itself, because we tried several ways to buy these panels, to get what we wanted, that was heavy enough that we could weld on Our attempts didn’t go well Someone suggested the local college, Northwest College here in Powell They have a welding program I said, “Well, do they do that sort of thing?” He gave me a name, and I went up and talked to him, and he said, “Sure, we’ll build your panels.” The neat thing about it is, they can’t charge you for their labor The panels are actually less money They charge you for all the materials, and then, when they’re done, the club will give them a donation, go into what they call a Rod Burners Club They turn it around, and use what you’ve donated to them to put on their spring welding contest, which they, in turn, recruit new members to the college It’s just a big circle, and the money goes around and around, so that has worked really well for us I must say that the panels they built are by far the best panels that we’ve ever put up – The corral looks great, but the snow looked arduous to me What happened there? – It was 65 degrees the day that we moved in and got set up We laid out our pattern, we laid out the panels, and we woke up the next morning to snow and still snowing, so we had to clear everything off Couldn’t even find the panels This was a joint venture too, by the way The Forest Service had actually cleared the location and graveled it Park County Recreation Department had contributed money to help buy the panels

Then we were doing all the labor, and providing all the tubing for the posts We had one of the local equipment rental outfits that had given us the use of a skid steer Bless their heart, ’cause we used that for removing snow, and auguring the holes, and we had to haul the cement with that skid steer from the cement truck to the post because it was so muddy, we couldn’t get the truck anywhere near it I think we had, what, 16 inches of snow through that period Nobody quit, everybody just kept working, and we got the project finished – Howard, we’ve talked about cleaning trails and building corrals, but there are other projects you guys are actively involved in – Yes, we do parking delineators to help people understand how they should park and to make the best use of the parking area We do feed bunks and stanchions, and we refurbish those We are currently involved with the trail intersection sign project Our club bought 63 signs that meet Forest Service specs, and we’re going to be putting those up, they’re trail intersection signs, all the way from the Beartooth down through this area here Phase one was 63 signs, and we hope for a phase two that we’ll work on We tried for several years to try to get a sign program going, and things didn’t work out, but we just kept watching Then, when things came together with the local Forest Service, they got personnel in that saw that as a great need Part of it is safety When you get out there, if it’s a cow trail, or what, or this goes over to a camp In an emergency situation, it’s nice to know where that trail’s going – GPS and all, absolutely – Oh, yes – Deb, it’s not just the Forest Service that you’ve developed partnerships with over the years – That’s true BLM, the Wyoming Game and Fish, anybody who needs some help, and I say that because, many times, it’s a project that an agency needs help with, and they know our reputation, and they’ll bring a project to us and ask if we’re interested in helping, or if we have the manpower and time that particular summer That’s worked out so well The cost share is really great with the Forest Service because we get some money out of it, but that’s not the only thing It’s the work, and our members feel responsible I was reminded recently that responsibility is made up of two words, response and ability We have the ability to get back in the back country, and haul items like this, the signs and different things for projects, and we have the ability, so we’re responding It would be nice to see younger generations step up to this act of responding to needs that they see You don’t have to have a horse to be a member – You know, what strikes me is that, so often, you hear how difficult it is to shrink it down to work with government, but that’s what you do, and you’ve been able to do that successfully What’s the magic? What can people learn from this? – You know, we’ve heard, over the years, that you cannot work with the government agency here or there, and in this area, we have had absolutely no problems They work with us very, very well, and it doesn’t make any difference As Deb said, the BLM, or the Forest Service, we just have had a great working relationship since day one It’s worked out for, well, the general public – Mm-hm, mm-hm, absolutely We talked about this a little bit earlier, but are you concerned for the future? Is this group gonna be able to survive for 10 years How’s that gonna hammer out here? – Well, in 10 years, there are gonna be some faces that will change, mine being one of them, I’m sure We do have some younger members that have joined us, and we hope the word gets out, that it’s not all work, it’s fun If we can’t have fun, we just go home – It’s gotta be the case too, that there are some members who can be involved with everything you do, and then other members who can maybe help out here and there They’re just as important to you Would you agree with that? – Oh, yes Like Deb said, you don’t have to own a horse or a mule to be a member That’s because we have projects like the Kids In The Woods, where we have members that don’t necessarily ride anymore, or don’t have any intention to ride, but they can still help with that project You do what you can, and we’ll take you Granted, we clean between 130 and 240 miles of trail a year, so we need help doing that, but with these other projects,

we’ll take people that don’t necessarily ride – Is your group managed with dues? Do you have some dues that people would contribute, either to your group or to a national group? – We do, we have dues, and then a portion goes on to state, and another portion on to national because we do network as a nation with all the different chapters, and some stays at home We do have dues, but our main money comes from the cost share – Next year, the year following, what do you have planned? What is it that you really want to see accomplished maybe two, three years down the road? What’s highest on your priority list? We’ll give you all a crack at that Bob, go ahead – Boy, that’s tough – It seems to me like your work’s never done – That’s true I would think, right now, biggest priority is probably recruitment – [Craig] Just like we had talked about – We are an elderly, I call us, a geriatric society ’cause we have very few members out here running a handsaw that’s less than 60 years old I realize that the young people are raising families, but if we can get them for maybe one day a year, come out and help out on something, that’s all we need Just chip in a little bit, but our club, like most of the clubs, we’re getting old – It is true that you’re one of the most active clubs, not just in Wyoming, and there are seven chapters in Wyoming I should point that out We’ll show our viewers a list of those clubs, but you’re one of the most active groups in the country – We evidently are One of the projects we’ve worked on several years is to take down old fence that was put up years and years ago when there was more grazing We work with Wilderness Society and some other groups to go to a site, so these are examples of someone who doesn’t own a horse, but they like to hike There are many ways that we can put all those active young people to work We have grandkids, and they all want to do things, and they appreciate the wild lands We just need to let them know there are ways that they could join us, and be a part of this – Howard Sanders, Deb Black, and Bob Bessler, thank you so much for sharing the good work of the Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen, and for joining us today on Wyoming Chronicle – Thank you – Thank you, yeah