Back Country Horsemen approach commission about Bankhead forest trails

DOUBLE SPRINGS  - An organization dedicated to equestrian recreation has approached the Winston County Commission, desiring that changes be made in the Bankhead National Forest to  provide not only more specific recreational opportunities, but economic development.
Roger Robertson, James Alexander and Mike Bagwell, representing Back Country Horsemen of America, approached Commission Chairman Roger Hayes and Commissioners David Cummings and Bobby Everett Oct. 12, about a need to create more development specific to horse trails and camps in Winston County.
Robertson, chairman of the chapter, the first to address the commission, said Back Country Horsemen is a national organization in 32 states with five chapters located in Alabama, one  of which represents the Bankhead forest. The organization uses 28 horse trails in the Owl Creek trail and camp system located in the Lawrence County portion of the forest.
“It accommodates about 30 trailers with a little overflow area,” Robertson said. “Over the years, they have been well used, but in the recent past we have been slowly overcome with tent campers and others who are not using it for horse purposes.”
When regular camping areas in Houston, Corinth and Clear Creek fill up, these campers start coming into the horse camps, causing an overcrowding situation, Robertson noted.
“We have national forests throughout this country that cooperate with their horse people, and they have great success economically,” Robertson pointed out.
In Jamestown, Tenn., Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area  has 15 horse camps, which are privately owned, but provide economic resources to that area, Robertson illustrated.
“They are very successful because the communities are involved,” he told commissioners. “When I go to those horse camps, there are people there from Illinois, Indiana, Virginia. They are well represented.”
Robertson said the goal was to have such development in the Bankhead forest.
“We believe there’s a way we can work this. It may be through you (the commission) working with the national forest...We believe you could ask and have a little more influence  than what we’ve got,” Robertson noted.
Hayes said he wanted to reserve his response until after he heard the statistics presented by Bagwell, who is the state vice chairman of BCH.
Bagwell stated that the Bankhead has roughly 181,000 acres, with 35 miles of horse trails in the Owl Creek system and the Sipsey Wilderness.
“We’re only riding 40 acres of this 181,000 acres. That’s a very low percentage, compared to other forests,” Bagwell said.
Alabama, he continued, ranked 46th in the nation as far as the number of horse trails.
“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” he noted.
Everett asked if the BCH is wanting the camp sites to connect to the horse trails.
“Yes,” Bagwell responded. “We basically need a larger trail system.”
Owl Creek Horse Camp has enough space for about 30 campers with water, but not electrical hookups, he said.


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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