Back Country Horsemen Buckhorn Range member and “Dutch Oven Queen” Kim Merrick, right, serves dessert to Martin Knowles of the Washington Trails Association and fellow Buckhorn Range member Larry Sammons during a trail-clearing work party. (Photo courtesy Kris Lenke)

Back Country Horsemen Buckhorn Range member and “Dutch Oven Queen” Kim Merrick, right, serves dessert to Martin Knowles of the Washington Trails Association and fellow Buckhorn Range member Larry Sammons during a trail-clearing work party. (Photo courtesy Kris Lenke)

HORSEPLAY: Horse groups join forces to clear trails

BACK COUNTRY HORSEMEN’S local chapter trail warriors rock! If you walk, run, bike or ride any of the trails used by horses on the North Olympic Peninsula, then you need to thank BCH members for their tireless work clearing trails of downed trees and debris. And there’s always a lot of trails closed after a storm passes through.

BCH Buckhorn Range member Bob Hoyle is one of the Peninsula’s foremost trail warriors. He often spearheads work parties in and around east Jefferson County. He’s also a longtime Washington Trails Association (WTA) member.

In February, he and chapter President Kris Lenke journeyed from Chimacum down U.S. Highway 101 for 50 miles along Hood Canal — past downed power lines, poles and trees and massive amounts of debris — to meet with Lori Lennox of BCH Grays Harbor and Traci Koch of the BCH Oakland Bay at the High Steel Bridge before going to the Vance Creek Bridge off National Forest Road 2340 near Shelton. Both are former railroad bridges that now serve as trail bridges.

Hoyle said he saw the aftermath of the heavy wet snowstorm that hammered the eastern Olympic Peninsula on Christmas Day. The storm closed state Highway 104 to Hoodsport, and power was knocked out for six days.

The group decided to try driving to the LeBar Horse Camp, located about 10 miles farther up Forest Service Road 2340. After going less than a mile, the road became a tunnel through the downed trees. Much of the route already had been carved out by permitted firewood cutters. With barely enough room to squeeze through, the group’s three SUVs and pickup slowly drove through and over logs, snow and debris until finally making it to the bridges over the Skokomish River, LeBar Creek and the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trailhead.

The firewood cutters had stopped here, and the group’s journey ended a half-mile from LeBar Horse Camp. (Note: LaBar Horse Camp is for stock use. Other campsites are available for those without).

Massive mess

Seeing all this devastation, Lennox suggested a regional sawyer work party to clear the road in advance of what was obviously going to be a very busy season of logging out trails. Hoyle sent an email the next day to Jai Lust, wilderness and trails coordinator of Olympic National Forest, and Rebecca Wanagel, longtime WTA crew leader and the newly appointed trail crew leader of BCH Peninsula.

Wanagel organized a crew of WTA sawyers who, along with Hoyle and Lenke, headed up to tackle the mess on March 26. There, they happily discovered a contractor already at work on the road.

The group worked to clear the trail with chainsaws and hand tools to open the LeBar access trail, the 120 access trail and the Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail No. 873 to the top of the switchbacks.

On April 26, Wanagel, Lust and Hoyle made a scouting trip to the area in advance of the BCH regional work party scheduled for May 20-22 at LeBar Horse Camp. They estimated there were hundreds of trees down on the 140 spur trail (1.4 miles) alone. Hoyle made another scout trip upriver May 7 to Camp Comfort and the 100 spur, where he encountered even more devastation from 200-plus trees.

Swamp work

A joint work party in May between WTA/BCHW cleared the 140 trail and two-thirds of the 100 trail that weekend in a torrential rain. Members of the Mountaineers also joined to provide trail brushing and swamping. Brushing is cutting back growth along a trail while a swamper follows to gather and dispose the cuttings out of sight.

The regional BCH work party began Friday, May 20, to clean up LeBar Horse Camp and finished logging out the Skokomish trail as far as the 100. Wanagel ran the sawyer crews made up of WTA sawyers Martin Knowles, Tom Griffith, Tien Vo, Bernt Ericsen and Paul Hornberger. Peninsula chapter-certified sawyers Jim Hollatz and Rick King with Suzanne King and Kris Lenke did the swamping.

Harold Weise of the Olympic chapter provided pack support while Larry Sammons of Buckhorn Range and Hoyle demolished and removed the old rotting roof from the vault toilet in the camp in preparation for a new roof.

On Saturday, the trail work continued with sawyers Traci and Wayne Koch from Oakland Bay chapter joining the party.

Sammons and Hoyle worked on extending the highline poles to raise them higher in sites Nos. 3 and 8 while Peninsula chapter members Theresa Percy and Stephanie Burns joined Lenke to clean up campsites. All the while, Peninsula members Linda Morin and Judy Sarles helped “Dutch Oven Queen” (and Buckhorn Secretary) Kim Merrick make and serve everyone a delicious dinner.

On Sunday, the mighty sawyers completed the last difficult mile of trail, which opened about 6 miles of main trail and 3 miles of spur trails, making three possible loops of riding using Forest Service Road 2353 to access.

A future work party is being organized by Wenagal to continue logging out the trail upriver to the ford at Church Creek and beyond, eventually opening the entire 12.5-mile trail to the upper trailhead parking lot and the Upper Skokomish trail.

Other WTA crew leaders have several trips planned to get this trail back up to snuff.

Hoyle applauds all who worked hard these past few months to clear the trails for all users’ enjoyment. He said the collaboration between Back Country Horsemen, WTA and the Mountaineers was “truly inspiring.” He especially wants to acknowledge Wenagal for “being an extraordinary human being who has more energy and enthusiasm for trails than anyone I have met and was instrumental in pulling this collaboration together.”

Thanks to multiple agencies and volunteers, the LeBar Horse Camp is now open to the public, and the trails are open for riding.

________

Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

Washington Trails Association Crew Leader Rebecca Wanagel cuts away one of the hundreds of trees blocking trails up to, in and around LaBar Horse Camp in Olympic National Forest. She said it was a “herculean effort” to clear all the fallen logs, but through teamwork by trail-loving volunteers from multiple agencies and members of Back Country Horsemen chapter, the work got done. (Photo courtesy Bob Hoyle)

Washington Trails Association Crew Leader Rebecca Wanagel cuts away one of the hundreds of trees blocking trails up to, in and around LaBar Horse Camp in Olympic National Forest. She said it was a “herculean effort” to clear all the fallen logs, but through teamwork by trail-loving volunteers from multiple agencies and members of Back Country Horsemen chapter, the work got done. (Photo courtesy Bob Hoyle)

Washington Trail Association certified sawyer Paul “Toothpick” Hornberger watches as Bernt Ericsen makes one of several cuts to help move a massive log off an Olympic National Forest Service trail near LaBar Horse Camp. (Photo courtesy Bob Hoyle)

Washington Trail Association certified sawyer Paul “Toothpick” Hornberger watches as Bernt Ericsen makes one of several cuts to help move a massive log off an Olympic National Forest Service trail near LaBar Horse Camp. (Photo courtesy Bob Hoyle)

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