Arkansas BCHA Hosts Annual Meeting at Cowboy Up Trails
By Pam Floyd
Cowboy Up Trails was the setting for the Arkansas Back Country Horsemen’s Annual Meeting and Camp Out held May 4th-8th. This event brought together members from all four of the state chapters: Buffalo River BCHA, Lower Buffalo River BCH, BCH of Northwest Arkansas (BCHNWA), and AR-Ozarks BCH. Members, along with their equine partners, perform trail work all year long in their respective service areas, so the annual meeting is an opportunity to get together to ride, camp, and share their accomplishments, as well as their plans for future projects. If you’re not familiar with our service organization, we are one of 32 states who together form the Back Country Horsemen of America. Together we are nearly 13,000 members strong, and we are dedicated to keeping public lands open to all and to promoting the safe and sustainable use of trails. Much of our work is accomplished through regularly scheduled work days, but we do manage to have a lot of fun along the way.
After all the recent heavy rain the creeks and waterfalls were up and running and the riding was spectacular. If you’ve not ridden at Cowboy Up, just know there is something there for everyone – from easy road riding along the beautiful Middle Fork Illinois Bayou to trails challenging enough to satisfy any ardent adventure-seeker. Multiple groups rode out every day to explore all that Cowboy Up has to offer, and no one was disappointed.
The highlight of the weekend was the actual meeting and potluck, which camp co-owner, John Stallings, was able to accommodate in his well equipped kitchen and meeting room. After state president Evelyn Mills called everyone to order, new member Mary Cole spoke about the tradition of horses and Back Country Horsemen within the Forest Service. Recently retired from a 30 year career with the National Forest Service, Mary understands the importance of Forest personnel and Back Country Horsemen working in partnership to keep public trails open. With a huge backlog of trail maintenance needs across the country, skilled volunteers have an invaluable role to play. Lonnie O’Bryant, president of BCHNWA, noted that these kinds of partnerships are the key in his service area, including Lake Wedington and Devil’s Den. At the request of Devil’s Den staff, BCHNWA members are now assisting with trail work on the Butterfield Hiking Trail, a non-equestrian trail. This chapter, our newest at less than a year old, has also branched out to help improve trail access at War Horse Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit veterans’ organization dedicated to providing horsemanship and other recreational activities for veterans and their families. As leaders from the other three chapters, Donna Blake, Rhonda Keeter, and Liz Heirs, shared their ongoing trail maintenance projects and other volunteer efforts, it became apparent that the mission of Back Country Horsemen of America is alive and well here in Arkansas.
Evelyn offered yet another example of successful partnerships as she reported on our recent fund-raising event, Pint Night, sponsored by Pack Rat in Fayetteville. Ticket sales for this fun outdoor event netted our organization $3718.00! This is a huge boost for us, and we are all grateful to Pack Rat for making it possible. The funds are primarily earmarked for our legacy project – a long distance horse trail linking Devil’s Den with the Buffalo National River and the Sylamore area in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. More to come on that in the future…
The last order of business happened to include our next opportunity to all come together in celebration. All members were invited to the Buffalo River Rendezvous Ride, sponsored by the Buffalo River Chapter in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River. The committee chair, Nancy Deisch, shared plans for the 17-day progressive ride along the length of the river in October with special events included along the way. She further incited excitement by allowing the members present to vote on their choice of T-shirt to commemorate the ride. We won’t reveal it here, but you might picture a striking buffalo sporting a golden 50 on its side. With that, the meeting was adjourned for food, fellowship, and likely, more time on the trail.
If you would like more information about Arkansas BCHA or any of its chapters, call Membership Chair Elaine Appel at (513) 477-0598 or email us. You can also visit BCHA.org to learn more about the national organization. Membership is a great way to connect with others who like riding, camping and keeping trails open. Our chapters welcome new members at any time.