Tales from the trail: 100 miles of service by wagon and on horseback

By Katie McKellar

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4 2013 7:05 p.m. MDT

Jake Hunt, left, and Huck Turner visit while driving as members of the Back Country Horsemen of Utah participate in a nine day excursion traveling over 100 miles in the high mountain valleys of central Utah and doing service projects for the local Forest Service units as part of a wagon trek/pack train celebrating the 40th anniversary of Back Country Horsemen of America Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, along the Skyline Trail above Ephriam.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SANPETE COUNTY — A line of about 10 wagons clattered along as they set off on a 100-mile trek across rocky trails that rose and fell with the gentle slopes of green meadows. Those replicating the pioneers' wooden rigs clashed and lurched at each stone.

Drivers held fast to the reins of their two-horse and two-mule teams as they neared camp set against a backdrop of cowboy skies, wildflowers fragrant in the air.

But the plodding pace of the wood-on-rock rattling of wagon wheels turns to choas in a start when a rein slips from a driver’s hand.

His team turns tight and is out of control. The wagon hits a bump and the driver is catapulted from his wagon. The team is frantic. The driver’s grandson lets loose a scream from the back of the wagon as it thrashes violently away.

Cowboys jump into action. Their steeds turn and gallop to the wagon. One manages to lasso one of the chargers, but he is forced to drop the rope as the wagon hurtles up around a trailer. Provo resident Julio Gonzalez chases after and grabs the rope. With the help of other horsemen, Gonzalez pulls the team into a circle and an eventual stop.

It's another tale from the trail, a place where service is the byword.

“When you’re on one of these wagon trains, everybody’s equal,” said Paul Bliss, a wagon teamster from Salem. “When you’re out here, you’re judged on your work ethics and your skills as a teamster or a horsemen. And as ranchers, horsemen and teamsters, we try to be stewards of the land while we’re out here.”

Throughout the rest of the trek, fellow horsemen and horsewomen would speak fondly of how the boy was saved and how the kinship of the Back Country Horsemen of America is manifested out of such calamity.

BCHA, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rights and land use of horses in the backcountry and providing education, service and involvement in public land management, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a nine-day wagon and horseback excursion across more than 100 miles in the high mountains of Sanpete and Emery counties along the Skyline Trail above Ephriam.

About 150 people—members and non-members—participated in the trek and commemorated the cause of BCHA by practicing “Leave No Trace” camping and completing a service project for the U.S. Forest Service every few days, said Jeff Nichols, the president of the BCHA Utah County Chapter.

The group donated about 150 hours of volunteer work throughout the trek by cleansing a meadow of about five bags of noxious weeds and dismantling some abandoned stock corrals and test plot fencing, Nichols said. The rest of the time, participants rode leisurely through grassy valleys, forested mountains, and fields of wild flowers on the trek that ended Saturday.

“We’re here to ride for fun too, but part of the charter of Backcountry Horsemen is to provide service,” Nichols said. “In order to make this meaningful, we felt like we needed to incorporate service into this. We’re celebrating what we do, after all.”

Deeds of the Horsemen

Joel Murphy, a member of the Utah County BCHA chapter and the trek’s trail boss, said between 1993 and 2011, BCHA members donated about 3 million hours of volunteer labor and cleared more than 20,000 miles of national forest trails across the nation. The labor converts to a value of more than $74 million to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Figures for 2012 will most likely exceed a value of $13 million, and it continues to grow each year as our membership continues to expand,” Murphy said.

Nichols said about 650 members make up the Utah membership.

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