Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Other trail users - horsemen

While I am occasionally irritated by mountain bikers, I would much rather share trails with them than with horse and mule riders and to a lessor extent, other stock users. I will use horsemen as a generic term and because my primary objections are to riders as opposed to other stock users.

The most obvious issue with horsemen is the horse manure spread liberally along the trail. While horse manure isn't nearly as objectionable as human or dog crap, few people want to walk in fresh horse crap. I have seen some trails, both in Yellowstone and other areas, literally covered with manure to the point there is no place to walk except in the crap. I find this especially galling since heavy use by horsemen nearly always indicates commercial guided operators. I don't object to commercial guides but I think when such operators degrade or monopolize a public trail, they have an obligation to mitigate their impact, something I don't often see. I was amused to read on a Yellowstone trailhead register a comment that "all horses should wear diapers". I wouldn't go that far but can appreciate the sentiment. On trails with lighter use the horse crap isn't a big deal but I avoid such trails during the summer because of noticeably heavier concentrations of bugs.

Stock use tends to cause greater trail erosion and mud problems than hiking or bike use. Many trails are closed seasonally to stock due to wet conditions; I think more western Washington trails should be closed to stock either seasonally or year around given the wet conditions common here. It is discouraging to be hiking a trail and need to navigate several freshly churned mud bowls. I've also had problems with balance on trails with even light horse usage.

Some horsemen are notably insensitive to other trail and camp users, in other words they are rude. I've been to a number of camp areas clearly marked "No stock in camp" that have unmistakable remains of stock. Horsemen seem to believe hikers can instantaneously vacate the trail when horse and hikers meet. I fully understand that stock have the trail right of way and try to move aside as quickly as I safely can do so. However, that may take a bit of time especially on steep trails or brushy hillsides. I don't move faster when encouraged by peremptory commands or sarcastic comments. A few years ago I was hiking a much used trail when I was overtaken by 2 women cantering by on horseback. At the pace they were going they quickly came up behind hikers who could not hear them until they were close due to a noisy creek. From what I saw when they passed me and the group ahead of me, the 2 women were oblivious to the hikers and continued as if the hikers were not there. They didn't run down any hikers but I got the feeling they might. As I continued out, other hikers commented unhappily on these two.

I certainly don't wish to exclude stock users from all trails. Many horsemen and other stock users are polite and helpful. I am also very aware of the historical, legal, and practical issues that favor horsemen. I certainly prefer horsemen to motorized usage in wilderness or parks. Some wilderness or park areas are simply too large for efficient patrolling or access by most hikers. I've desired for some time to use a pack service to allow me to spend time in a remote area without having to pack on my back all my gear and to allow a longer and more comfortable stay. I also believe, as I mentioned with mountain bikers, that the more users of backcountry and trails there are, the better. I don't know how much horsemen contribute to trail building and maintenance; locally I've read both that they do more than their share and much less than their share.

As mentioned above, I would like commercial operators who use specific trails to take responsibility for such trails or to construct separate horse and hiking trails if feasible. I would like more wet trails closed either seasonally or year around to stock use. Actually in western WA, some trails should be closed to all use seasonally or for a few years until the trails can be rebuilt or recover from heavy use. I would like horsemen to consider the needs of other trails users and obey regulations. And, I would like horsemen to visibly help build and maintain trails. The amount of anger I hear and read from hikers toward horsemen is not good and I hope it can be reduced.


At 1/1/09 21:37, Blogger Mossy Mom said...

I'm glad that the "back country horsemen" do so much trail work. I'm not at all happy about the many negative experiences I've had with people up on their high horses demanding that I move off the trail and demanding me to talk to their horses. No once can talk to a horse of course.


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