Photo: Pictured above, Duck Springs resident and Back Country Horsemen of America member Chad Jones and his horse Chief get set to clear debris from the equestrian trails at Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City. Photo courtesy of Ponda Jones.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer/Photographer and Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Following the April 19 tornado that hit Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City, fallen trees clogged the facility’s horse trails prohibiting people or animals from crossing. Inspired by his organization’s mission, Duck Springs resident and Back Country Horsemen of America member Chad Jones committed himself to ensuring the trails were cleared and open for all.
Jones contacted BCHA McClellan chapter president Jerry Roach to organize a voluntary work session at Wind Creek State Park. Together, the two sent out emails to each BCHA chapter explaining the situation and asking for help. Jones and Roach were not disappointed with the response they received.
From April 30 through May 3, 25 members from four BCHA chapters met at the park to help clear debris from the horse trails. Over the course of four days, the group cleared approximately 20 miles of equestrian trails. Beginning at the equestrian campground and working outward, the group used chainsaws, ATVs and pack horses to remove all debris. Although the blue trail, one of the longest and most scenic of the rising trails, was too heavily damaged for the chapter members to clear, their combined efforts opened three trails in one weekend alone.
Jones understands that Wind Creek offers individuals more than just horseback riding, providing trials for other activities like hiking and biking. He acknowledged that since the park’s main concern was getting its main campground up and running, the equestrian trails were understandably not the top priority during their post-tornado cleanup.
“Wind Creek offers things for everyone,” said Jones. “We go down there and camp and ride a lot. There are some folks who go with us who don’t really ride, but they have a fishing pier and they can go swim if they want to, so they’re not stuck at the camp by themselves. The trails at Wind Creek aren’t just horse trails, they’re multi-use trails.”
The park’s response to BCHA’s efforts was overwhelming. To express its gratitude, Wind Creek waived the fees for the group’s three-night stay at the equestrian campground.
“You couldn’t have asked for [Wind Creek] to be more appreciative for what we did,” said Jones. “There definitely has been a good relationship built there. They understand that Back Country Horsemen didn’t come and take advantage of them—we had four out of five BCHA chapters in the state of Alabama [show up to work].”
Jones hopes the Alabama BCHA will consider adopting the Wind Creek trails into the organization to generate interest in BCHA and perhaps even create a new chapter in Wind Creek to maintain the trails. He feels that with the establishment of such a positive relationship between Wind Creek and BCHA, new trails might even appear in the future.
Jones and his wife Ponda both possess a love for horses that stems from their childhoods. While Ponda began riding at age six, Jones recalls his sister holding him because he was too young to sit on a horse by himself. As BCHA members for several years, the couple became involved when a chapter developed in Anniston, where they assisted in opening trails on the old Fort McClellan property. Their shared history creates a sense of relatability that circulates throughout BCHA members, resulting in strong friendships that develop from mutual experiences and an organization united in its mission.
“Horse people are totally different,” said Ponda. “Getting together and camping out and doing things [is fun] but then coming together and working like this [shows how] everyone pulls together. Everyone has the same goal—to ride and to keep the trails open for others.”
“The camaraderie among the people [is what I enjoy about BCHA the most],” said Jones. “Of course, all the members have something in common—we enjoy horseback riding and camping. But [more than that] they’re good folks to be around. Socializing with folks that have the same interest as you makes everything more fun.”
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.
In 2018, Back Country Horsemen of America volunteers spent 322,125 hours working to maintain trails on public lands—which equates to a value of 12.1 million dollars in trail work donated to local and federal land managing agencies. Since 1995, BCHA members contributed a value equal to 140.2 million dollars in volunteer hours.
“We would love to have more members,” said Jones. “The more members the better. It’s not a requirement to work; it’s all voluntary. But the more members we have, the more the state and federal government [recognize us as a true organization], as more than just a few guys. The more members we have, the more [others] take us seriously on issues and help us open up more public land for use.”
BCHA’s mission is to perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses in America’s back country and wilderness; to work to ensure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use; to assist the various government and private agencies in their maintenance and management of said resource; to educate, encourage and solicit active participation in the wise use of the back country resource by horsemen and the general public commensurate with their heritage; and to foster and encourage the formation of new state Back Country Horsemen’s organizations.
The Back Country Horsemen of America welcomes riders of all types, ages and interests into its chapters. 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.