Along with similar groups in Idaho and Montana, Back Country Horsemen of Washington was founded in 1976 by trail- riding horsemen dedicated to preserving the rights of people to use horses and mules for recreation on public lands.
They engage with everyone from lawmakers to service groups to keep trails open, in more ways than one.
In 2011, 2,700 members in Washington logged about 54,500 hours of volunteer work, including 21,500 hours on 1,100 miles of trails across the state, from the Olympic Mountains to Liberty Lake County Park.
Back Country Horsemen of America chapters in 27 states logged 326,347 hours of work valued at $11 million on 20,288 trail miles in 2011.
“Probably the biggest change over the years is the respect horsemen get from hikers,” said Dick Yarboro, the group’s spokesman in Western Washington. “We used to be scorned by hikers and mountain bikers, but they’ve grown to appreciate our leave-no-trace efforts and how much we do for trails.
“We work a lot with the Forest Service and state parks and we team up with the Washington Trails Association. If they have to walk in 7 or 8 miles for a project, the hikers can get a lot more done on the ground if we pack in their tools and gear.
“And as their knees wear out, some of them turn to horses and join us.”