Black Hills & Big Horns
Some ramblings from the Black Hills and the Bighorns
As we begin our summer sojourn to the Black Hills for the 30th summer or so, I needed to stop and write down some notes before I get entirely too lazy for the rest of the month's trip.
We started out this vacation staying at Battle Creek Horse Camp here at Hill City, SD for out 4th visit. Dwight Schrier and Holli are such cordial hosts I just have to put in a plug for their horse camp which we enjoy so much. They are centrally located in the hills which allows us to ride out to many of the popular sites like the MT Rushmore monuments, or Harney Peak, or the Centennial 89 trail. Our kids and grand kids are a mix of horse nuts and 4-wheeler nuts, so this area of the Black Hills which has multi-use trails for both of our groups to enjoy really hits the spot with us. And then trout fishing for the grand kids nearby as well!
Update on the Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness area
Dwight keeps me updated every year on the goings on with the Forest Service and the South Dakota Trail Riders volunteers out here. Some of our friends like Tom Heffernan are volunteering as Trail Rangers to help out the Forest Service with compliance issues. Paying attention to the rules of usage in the Wilderness area is a point of concern to the Forest Service and to the local horsemen, and some of us horse users are the guilty parties. They are issuing citations for exceeding the limit of 12 horses in a group, or for not registering when you enter the wilderness areas, or for other trespasses. The rules are well posted at the points of entry so nobody has much of an excuse. Fines up to $100 are possible, and a second offense can cause you to get arrested. They are serious about this.
And the real unfortunate aspect of all of this is that the horse people, by these actions, are costing all of us trail support in these areas. The Forest Service estimates that only 30% of the horse users bother to register upon entry, whereas about 80% of the hikers register. And funding is based on usage numbers of course, so guess which areas get bypassed! Just as a matter of principal, all of us horse users ought to register, or sign in, or whatever, any time that we use recreational facilities anywhere because this is essential to getting recognized and getting the support we need. If you are too embarrassed to acknowledge that you are using the trail systems, then you need to rethink your actions.
And as surely as I wrote this, we ran into Tom and Cathy Heffernan the next day out on the trail on our way to Harney Peak. Tom was handing out the Black Elk Wilderness information brochures to whomever he encountered on the trail. And the next day back in camp the local ranger, Darrel Schwartz, stopped by to talk with anybody in camp who would listen about the Leave No Trace Ethic and passed out some LNT brochures. The Forest Service is low on funding for trail maintenance, so their plan is to supplement the lesser maintenance with educational efforts. Lets hope that they can get more maintenance funding also for next year. Most likely some of our MN Trail Riders donations, designated by our members for the SD trails, will be used to republish more of these brochures according to Dwight.
Again this year we checked out the Willow Creek Horse Camp. There were about 7 horse units in the day we traveled through, which is about half the capacity although no sites are available in the reservation system. But we are told that the Sierra Club members are still tying up the reservations for all these area campgrounds. They apparently are willing to sacrifice the camping costs in order to keep one more group out of the wilderness area!
Update on the Bighorn National Forest and the Cloud Peak Wilderness
We ventured farther west again for the 11th consecutive year to the Bighorns in WY. Stayed at Hunter Corrals Trailhead for the second week in August and met some new MN friends, Jim & Jill Berg from Albert Lea, who were out here for the first time with their horses, although they had hiked out here many times in the past.
Also met Kandy Harrison from the Cloud Peak BCH group (which we also belong to) who was out here doing volunteer trail work all week. She was working with the Forest Service who had the Rocky Mountain Regional Pack Mule String from Denver out here to pack out the steel and wood from the bridges which have been removed from the Wilderness area. They had six large draft horse cross mules, which they can load out with over 200 pounds each as they carry the old material out to the wilderness boundary where they can then truck it away. The Wilderness ethic is so strong out here that the Forest Service has decided to remove these manmade structures which were built long before the area was declared a wilderness. This is a controversial policy, especially with some of the hikers who now have to get their feet wet when they cross the creeks. But since the Forest Service has taken this position, the Back Country Horsemen are assisting with the work.
Kandy also worked one day on the six mile long Sawmill Creek trail south of here going into the Sherd Lake trail loops. The CPBCH volunteer group has now cleared all but the last mile of the Sawmill. Last year they cleared the entire trail to Lake Angeline, which is about seven miles up to the lake at over the 10,000 foot elevation, well above the tree line in the slab rock and having it's own small glacier. Some day I will make it up this trail.
The Hunter Trailhead was not as busy this year, with only about an average of three of us horse groups each day out of nine possible camp sites. Maybe folks are more concerned about high gas prices and longer trips than we thought. There did seem to be more ATV users this year, though. The camp hosts for August were the same cordial local couple from Buffalo, WY who have been there for the last 7-8 years. They pointed out the mess that the July trail hosts left, (a couple from PA who come every year and whom we have not met). Their three mules were pastured there all month and nothing had been cleaned up. Makes you wonder about how some other people view this idea about No Trace Camping when even a camp host does something like this.
The non-refundable reservation fee is $9, which is a small cost if you are concerned about how busy your destination campground might be.
Again this year I remind you of the need for good maps when you trail ride into the high country where getting lost can have serious consequences. These are tough trail systems, and are long enough that getting lost will cost you an overnight stay out with the bears! If I need to tell you about carrying a compass or GPS also, then you aren't ready for the big time trails! Stop in to one of the sporting goods shops on your way out and pick up a good map of the area you are visiting. One series that I like and that are widely available are the Trails Illustrated, National Geographic Maps series. These are plastic coated topographic maps with all trails and roads identified and will stand getting wet (because even a good map won't help you avoid a rain shower). They cost around $10 and can be picked up locally in the west or ordered from their Web site at www.ngmapstore.com or Trails Illustrated, PO Box 4357, Evergreen, CO 80437-4357 (800-962-1643).
Again this year the maps handed out at the Hunter Corrals trail head which purport to show 5 or 6 loop trails which new folks can follow if they aren't familiar are still grossly inadequate. Some people would think that these might be enough, but believe me they are not - the Forest Service may think that everyone would also have topo maps with them, but it is not the case many times.
Back Home Again
Thus ended another ideal summer trail riding season for us, and time to head home where we are going to once again do one last stint of summer riding by serving as campground hosts at the Zumbro Bottoms West campground for the last half of September and the last week in October for the Frostbite Ride. So when you finish reading this, head on down and join us there for one of Minnesota's finest at the finest time of the year!
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