Do you enjoy horseback riding, hiking, hunting, fishing or backpacking in Montana’s back country and Wilderness areas?
Chances are, you have benefitted from the volunteer work done by Back Country Horsemen of Montana (BCH MT). Last year alone, 4,384 miles of trail and 21,287 hours were spent on trail work by BCH MT. With our federal land management agencies being forced to operate with declining budgets, volunteer efforts are increasingly important to help keep trails open for all public users.
Back country Horsemen is a Montana-made idea that has its roots deep in the spirit of Montana’s wild back country. The concept began on a chilly late fall evening in 1971 when four men sat around a campfire deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The cold north wind kept them close to the warmth of the fire while they discussed the challenges of keeping public access in the recently designated Bob Marshall Wilderness. As they stared into the bright red and orange coals, they began contemplating how horsemen/women could work collaboratively with the federal agencies, primarily the Forest Service, Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to further protect and keep access open on our public lands and meet the mandates of the Wilderness Act. While the coals and embers of the campfire eventually died, the concept of building a service-based organization that furthered the use of horses and mules in Montana’s back country grew stronger and brighter.
In 1973, the first meeting of the new organization called the Back Country Horse Users Club was held at the Flathead National Forest Office in Kalispell. It was led by the four men who had sat around that campfire. In 1974, the Missoula chapter of Back Country Horsemen was established and the organization became the Back Country Horsemen of Montana. Now, 43 years later, 17 chapters spread across Montana, with nearly 1,300 members working tirelessly to assist with trail clearing, maintenance, construction and facility repair. Since that time, 37 States across the U.S. with almost 16,000 members have become Back Country Horsemen of America, continuing the work of keeping access open for the American Public into our wilderness and back country Public Lands.
From the beginning, there were four fundamental core principles that drove the mission and vision for the Back Country Horsemen of Montana. They are:
• To perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses in America’s back country and Wilderness areas.
• To work to insure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use.
• To assist the various government and private agencies in their maintenance and management of said resource.
• To educate, encourage, and solicit active participation in the wise and sustaining use of the back country.
The need for outdoor-related education has grown significantly over the years. As the general public has become more and more removed from the land, many of the skills that are required to operate traditional tools, working with horses and mules as well as protecting the resource are not well known. BCH MT has taken on the responsibility of teaching and instructing new users of the back country in these traditional skills needed to be volunteers or anyone just planning to recreate in the back country. Youth camps, wilderness skills, and mule packing classes are held around Montana through the local chapters using skilled BCH MT members as instructors.