Southern Indiana horse riders
The group works with Indiana DNR
pitch in to clear, maintain trails
officials at area parks
(July 2013) – As summer weather approaches, more people are looking to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. And those who best appreciate the view from the back of a horse can thank the Indiana Trail Riders Associate for helping to preserve and promote the sport of trail riding all across the state.
Ron McCoy, former ITRA board Chairman explains the appeal, “For me, it’s a whole lot deeper than walking the trails. Throw me on a horse, and it’s just magic. I just totally unwind when I go on a trail.”
Many horse enthusiasts take time out from their riding to maintain trails or else they may be lost.
ITRA began back in the 1970s when the closure of some horse trails in Brown County, Ind., made riders realize that they needed to become more active in the preservation of their sport. Since then, the group has taken an active role in keeping existing trails and campgrounds for riders maintained and worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and forestry officials for the creation of new ones.
• For more information, visit: www.intrailriders.org or the group’s Facebook page.
President Bob McPheeters, of Anderson, Ind., explains the importance of the organization saying, “We’re just trying to keep the trails open for our kids and grandkids.” McPheeters says that ITRA has about 1,500 members, but through their connections with other equestrian clubs, he estimates that the association keeps in contact with 3,500-6,000 people.
One of the group’s most exciting current projects is a campground at Versailles State Park in Versailles, Ind. About three years ago, the park hired a new Property Manager, Paul Sipples, and so McCoy and a group of other ITRA members went to introduce themselves. Over the course of the meeting, the discussion turned to what should be done with the old Saddle Barn on the grounds. The ITRA immediately proposed that it be turned into a campground for riders, and that spark soon took life.
The ITRA assisted the DNR with a master plan design for electrified campsites and has organized work days to bring out volunteers to cut trees and clear brush. McPheeters says that the group is hopeful that the Versailles campground will be able to open about 15 sites for primitive camping by late summer or early fall, while electrified sites are still a little ways down the road.
More than $62,000 in grants have been awarded toward the project through Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun foundations. McCoy says of the project, “It just kept manifesting itself into bigger and better things...the state of Indiana has been very cooperative.”
McPheeters explains that while some trails have been closed in recent years, primarily due to damage by improper use, many more trails have been opened. “We’re starting to work with the bikers and hikers for multi-use trails that help everyone,” he says. McPheeters explains that careful and informed planning is essential when creating new trails. ITRA has about 25 members who have gone through training in the proper construction of trails.
McPheeters notes that properly cut and maintained trails can actually help the environment by helping to control the amount of sediment that runs off in to lakes. He explains that just such a project in Yellowwood State Forrest in Brown County helped to prove the value of trails to the Department of Natural Resources.
McPheeters says that it is important to start off with a proper survey of the ground so that the proposed trail “doesn’t conflict with the environment. You try not to cut down any trees you don’t have to,” he says.
Another top priority is the safety of riders and their mounts, “where you don’t play ‘Snowy Mountain,” he said, laughing, referencing the famous movie scene where a rider takes a horse down a near vertical cliff face.
The ITRA stays busy maintaining existing trails as well. Throughout the year, members gather at parks and trails for organized clean up days. Their work might include chain sawing fallen trees, posting trail signs or simply clearing litter. The group is adept at making these work days fun as some of the cleaning done from horseback using long, spiked poles to stab cans or using small clippers to trim back branches reaching onto the trails without ever leaving the saddle. Traditionally, these work days are not complete without a cookout or pitch-in supper, meaning those who work up an appetite are well rewarded.
Part of the work of the ITRA involves networking with government officials to share information and concerns about the uses of Indiana State Parks. This past May, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took to the trails with ITRA riders at Deam Lake State Recreation Area in Borden, Ind. Those very trails were put in about five years ago with assistance and advice from the ITRA. This fun ride allowed the governor, who is no stranger to trail riding, the chance to enjoy the day with Association members.
McPheeters said it was exciting to “see his enthusiasm for equines” and lists the ride as a “real highlight” of his time as ITRA president.
One of the rewarding aspects of trail riding is the fact that it is accessible to people of all ages. “Sharing an experience with an animal – young people get a lot out of it. It teaches young people responsibility,” he said. However, he is also quick to point out, “I see a lot of really old guys and gals riding.”
McPheeters, who did not get involved in riding horses until he was 50, says people “from 2 to 100” can get something out of interacting with horses. With an equine, you can always be doing something.”
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