By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Back Country Horsemen of America McClellan Chapter is taking its mission to television screens across the country. With a collection of tranquil horse trails in the heart of Anniston, the chapter is celebrating its efforts with a grand event to showcase the magic of Camp McClellan.
The “Best of America by Horseback” television show airs on RFD-TV, hosted by Tom Seay who travels throughout the United States to showcase trail riding locations and the people behind them. From November 13 through 15, Seay and his crew will explore Camp McClellan Horse Trails and the capture its beauty on film.
When people come to Camp McClellan, especially out of state, they turn to local businesses and restaurants for their needs. Roach emphasized that while Seay’s program will promote the horse trails, the event will garner publicity beyond Camp McClellan, emerging as a wonderful opportunity to boost tourism for the area.
“We have a lot of people coming this weekend from all over the United States to participate,” said BCHA McClellan Chapter President Jerry Roach. “I’ve made contact with people that have hosted Seay’s show before, and everyone one of them was just raving about how once you get on his show, the popularity just explodes.”
A friend of Roach’s introduced him to Seay at an equestrian event in Tennessee, where the acquaintances spoke for hours about Camp McClellan and Seay’s television series. While Seay expressed a sincere interest in the horse trails, he was booked for the season. Two weeks later, Roach received a burst of light through the clouds – Seay had a cancellation and wanted to visit Anniston in its place.
The McClellan chapter began working on its horse trails last March, after acquiring a working agreement lease to occupy the lands that rest on the back area of Fort McClellan. The lease arose from a partnership between the chapter and the Calhoun County Commission, whose encouragement and support were the driving force behind manifesting such a massive project.
For eight months, dedicated chapter members diligently developed the land, clearing the trails exclusively on foot. All trails were cut out by hand, with members working efficiently to move rocks, limbs and trees. Trails were even adopted by certain chapter members, who were responsible for ensuring their specific trail remains clean and safe for use at all times.
The chapter sparked the interest of author Jeanette Henderson, a fellow equestrian who reviews horse camps in her book, The Best (and Worst) Horse Camp Across America. Henderson discovered Camp McClellan and traveled to Alabama for herself, enamored with the area and offering the chapter a few suggestions for improvement. Henderson was so impressed with the chapter that she assisted members on their work days, joining in the labor of love that ensued to establish the camp.
An awe-inspiring sign welcomes visitors to Camp McClellan Horse Trails, featuring the names of chapter members etched into the metal, living forever as the individuals whose contributions made the idea of the trails a reality.
While the Camp McClellan horse trails are still primitive, the free campground promotes miles of serene forest and 15 trails perfect for riders of all ages and levels of experience. Roach described the McClellan trails as unique due to the variety of options available for riders, and highlighted the immense dedication and planning that the members poured into creating something special that sets their trails apart from the vast majority. Riders can explore new pathways or enjoy seasoned favorites, following the map with ease throughout the grounds.
“It’s got everything,” said Roach. “We’ve got a road system in there. If you’d just like to ride the old military roads that were used for training, you can ride those. If you’ve got a gaited horse and it would like to go a little faster, they can gait all over that place. It’s very simple to find out where you are. Each trail is designed with difficulty, from beginner trails to moderate trails. If you want to go up a little bit higher and you want to challenge yourself or your horse, we’ve got trails that are more challenging. But there are no dangerous trails on there – we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure all trails are safe.”
All trails at Camp McClellan feature names that coincide with the military, paying homage to the site’s rich history. Names like Veterans Trail, MIA Trail, Trooper Trail and Ranger Trail are among the routes guests can take as they travel.
Another aspect of the Camp McClellan trails that puts its visitors at ease is the markers that define specific locations. At each intersection, a well-defined marker tells riders the nearest camp or trail they are approaching. By this time next year, the chapter hopes to establish power, water and sewer on the property, as well as developing a general store, pavilion with a full kitchen and shower houses for guests, who can attend the campground for free.
BCHA McClellan Chapter members Ponda and Chad Jones of Duck Springs will lead Seay and his group throughout two hours’ worth of trails, serving as guides or “trail bosses.”
While Chad will lead the group in the front, Ponda will monitor the back, ensuring that all riders are safe and secure. Ponda and Chad both consider the opportunity an incredible honor, grateful that Roach would trust them to fulfill such an important task.
“We work very well as a team,” said Ponda. “It’s not like I’m telling him what to do or he’s telling me what to do – we just know what to do. Chad and I do everything together. From setting up the camper or horse trailer to working the trails, we’re like a very well-oiled machine.”
“It’s an honor,” said Chad. “There’s been more than [Ponda and I] work hard to get this going, but for them to designate me as the trail guide, it’s a big honor. Not so much for the TV show, just that people in the organization look up to us.”
Back Country Horsemen of America is a national organization with chapters located throughout the United States. As devoted equestrians who love to ride and explore new trails, BCHA members are committed to protecting the access of equestrians to public lands. The organization assists with trail maintenance and improvement projects, keeping trails clear for all user groups. BCHA chapters are active in 31 states consisting of roughly 13,000 members who are dedicated to keeping trails open for all on public lands. Its chapters work closely with trail partners and local land management agencies to clear and maintain trails.
Out of all chapters, Roach noted, the McClellan Chapter is working towards becoming the largest group in the state – and nation.
The McClellan horse trails emerge as just one facet of an organization committed to bettering its community, not only in the present, but in the future. From establishing miles of land to as a sanctuary for equestrian experiences to developing outreach programs to raising funds for local youth, the chapter outstretches its hands to create long-lasting relationships with the people it serves.
While other parks in the state cater to a plethora of interests, the McClellan horse trails remain dedicated to the preservation of equestrian activities, and promote the significance of passing those experiences from generation to generation. Although most members of the McClellan chapter are adults, Ponda noticed parents and grandparents bringing their children and grandchildren along to witness the serenity for themselves.
In the ever-evolving and modernizing world of today, Ponda holds tightly to the gifts discovered in nature. As so many people entangle themselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Jones understands the importance of taking a moment to stop, breathe and remember the natural beauty found just around the corner. Ponda, along with other members of BCHA, advocate for the preservation of the environment and wildlife, recognizing the priceless worth of the land that should never be forgotten.
“That’s why we’re [creating these trails],” said Ponda. “So that [future generations] will have something to ride when we’re gone. If we don’t do that, they won’t have those lands. We are thrilled beyond belief. We want them to feel passionate about it the way we do, because if you don’t, everything is going to be made of concrete and we won’t have anything left.
“I don’t know if people understand how important it is to still have things you can do outdoors. There’s so many places you can live that you don’t have access to go out into the woods and enjoy nature. When you’re out there, you can’t hear a car. It’s just you and Mother Nature on your horse. It’s amazing.”
The Back Country Horsemen of America welcomes riders of all types, ages and interests into its chapters. The McClellan chapter is welcoming new members for $35 per individual, and $40 per family. For more information on becoming a member or finding a chapter, visit www.bcha.org or BCHA on Facebook.
This article was supplemented by www.bcha.org.