As a trail rider, you likely ride on public lands, from city and county parks to national parks, national forests, and vast wilderness areas. Preserving equestrian access to public lands is critical.
You may think the parks and other public areas you ride on are there to stay. However, public lands have become increasingly vulnerable to closures and restrictions.
To help keep open the public trails you ride on, be proactive. Here are public-land preservation guidelines from the Equine Land Conservation Resource.
• Create an organization or club. There’s strength in numbers. Riding clubs and organizations can be of great value in creating public-land manager relationships, providing conduits for communication, and lobbying to keep trails open.
• Determine the agency land manager(s). Public lands range from municipal parks and woodlands to federal parks and the vast natural resource zones.
Determine which agency or agencies manage the land on which you ride. Keep in mind that multiple agencies may oversee management.
For local agencies, such as counties and towns, go through their respective planning or parks and recreation departments to reach land managers. You’ll find contact information on public websites.
For state agencies, start with your state’s parks and recreation department, and go from there. (For federal agency contacts, see box.)
• Build relationships. Build relationships with all relevant land managers. Through the managers, you’ll be able to build relationships with the agencies.
• Look up policies and schedules. Find out the land managers’ planning and decision-making processes and schedules. Study the comprehensive plan and other plans that affect equestrian access.
• Learn the issues. Learn about the basic issues that land managers must deal with regarding equestrian access. These might include concerns about water pollution from horse manure, soil loss through horse traffic, invasive weed seeds, lack of maintenance due to low budgets, and disturbance of wildlife. Read up on any relevant scientific studies, such as those that alleviate concerns about manure and seed carrying, and share this information with the land managers.
• Participate. Participate in policy and land-use planning processes, including public-input periods and direct meetings with land management staff. Provide input at the planning and legislative levels.
• Advocate. Advocate the use of public lands for equine access by informing decision makers about the economic benefits of equine and other user recreation in your area. Always be well-informed and considerate in your communications.
• Keep up with changes. When government agencies create policies that are unfriendly to horses, learn why these changes came about. To do this, use the lines of communication you’ve established with public-land managers.
• Follow the rules and regulations. Find out the equine-use rules and regulations, then follow them and share them with your organization or club. These rules may include those regarding health records; acceptable feeds (such as certified weed-free hay); where you may park, ride, and camp; what you may carry in/out; on-trail etiquette; hours of operation; and safety considerations.
• Help maintain trails. Participate in trail-maintenance activities with your group or a trail organization, such as your local chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of America (www.bcha.org).
For more on local, state, and federal agencies, and what you can do to protect and promote access to trails in your community, visit www.elcr.org.
Denise O’Meara, RLA, is a professional landscape architect, writer, conservationist, and horsewoman. She has extensive experience in Thoroughbred breeding, care, and farm management, and enjoys trail riding and hiking. As a landscape architect, O’Meara has developed a refined sense of how the natural and built environment can and must coexist, where people and horses fit in, and what we, as local and global community members, can do to protect our open land and water for the future.
The Equine Land Conservation Resource is the only national not-for-profit organization advancing the conservation of land for horse-related activity. ELCR serves as an information resource and clearinghouse for land and horse owners on issues related to equine land conservation, land-use planning, land-stewardship/best-management practices, trails, liability, and equine economic development. For more information, call (859) 455-8383, or visit www.elcr.org