THE “KEEPERS OF Mt. Mueller,” is how I refer to Larry and Sherry Baysinger. For more than 30 years, the two avid horsemen have viewed the trailhead, trails and especially Littleton Horse Camp as “sort of our hobby.” Their hobby is to clear away fallen tree debris after storms and maintain the trailhead and camp.
“We take personal pride in the horse camp, and feel like it kind of belongs to us because we helped Molly get it to happen,” said Sherry, referring to Molly Erickson, then Recreational Ranger with Olympic National Forest. Littleton Horse Camp remains the only official National Forest Service Horse Camp on the peninsula.
One reason they’re involved is that their farm is located less than 10 miles away. As long-time members of Back Country Horsemen, Sherry credits her fellow Peninsula Chapter members with helping to get it built.
“We started out by going out there with Molly and laying out where we wanted to campsite to be and where we wanted the corrals to be,” said Sherry. “Our first work party was digging all of the Sweet Pea weeds out of these huge gravel piles, so that we could use the gravel for the campsites and in the trails that go to the campsites.”
I remember well the process and time that went into building the camp, having covered its official opening celebration in Peninsula Horseplay back in 2005. At the time, Sherry was the president of the chapter, and it’s her signature on the maintenance agreement between the Peninsula Chapter and NFS.
As the Peninsula Chapter went on to focus more on maintaining trails, such as Miller Peninsula (the force behind getting the parking lot and vault toilet at the trailhead), the Baysingers decided to form another, the Mt. Olympus Chapter, to focus on maintaining West End trails.
“Since then, we’ve put in pipe corrals instead of wood corral. Two water systems and a lot of other improvements with the help of grants,” she said. “During the summer when there’s not enough water in the creek to fill them, we personally own a big water tank and pump, so we’ll go to the Hot Springs Hatchery, fill it up with water, and then pump into the water tank at Littleton.”
Maintenance work used to be about clearing debris off the trails after storms and keeping toilet paper in the vault toilet. These days much of it involves destruction by people. In just one year, they’ve had to replace the Iron Ranger (where people are supposed to drop a few dollars in to pay for overnight stays) at the trailhead four times. And, people have built roads in from the highway to the trails to cut down trees to steal the wood.
“It’s crazy how much timber they’re stealing!” They just found out a new law enforcement person was hired to patrol the area, for which they are grateful. Camp hosts during the summer have also helped keep revelers and vandals away.
She worries who will do the work when Larry and her aren’t around anymore.
“We’re going to be 76 this year,” said Sherry. “Sometimes I can hardly believe we’re that old and can still get on our horses!”
Doesn’t seem that long ago they were packing equipment on their mules to take to work parties high up in the backcountry of the Olympic Mountains, or operating Rainforest trail rides to tourists, but it has.
Their children and grandchildren are now living in Idaho, and they miss them. She imagines they’ll be eventually moving there, too.
In the meantime, there’s new, and younger ones, in the BCH Mt. Olympus Chapter who are already stepping in to help.
For more information about local Back Country Horseman chapters, visit the Mt. Olympus, Peninsula or Buckhorn Range Facebook pages.
Mt. Mueller Trailhead and Littleton Horse Camp are located off Highway 101 located between mile markers 216 and 217 on Forest Service Road 3071. For more information, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/olympic/recarea/?recid=47725.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.