Back Country Horsemen providing a service for generations to come
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Melinda “Mendy” Wenke calls it a labor of love.
She was referring to her work with the Southeast Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Iowa (SECBCHIA), a chapter formed in 2016. Wenke, of Fairfield, served as trail master (similar to the president of an organization) during the group’s first year.
On Sunday, Wenke was dining with approximately 50 other members of the chapter and prospective members during a potluck-membership drive at The Fellowship Cup in Mt. Pleasant.
“I enjoy the work as much as the people,” reflected Wenke. “It is a lot of fun.”
SECBCHIA was formed in the early 1970s by a few farsighted horsemen who understood the eventual implications of the trend toward restrictions on horse use in the back country.
Now active in 30 states in the United States, the organization did not take root in Iowa until January 2016. The SECBCHIA was the second chapter formed in Iowa, Wenke says. Today, there are three chapters —the Northwest and Mid-Iowa chapters in addition to the Southeast Chapter. Wenke said southwest Iowa is close to forming a chapter, leaving northeast Iowa as the Lone Ranger without a chapter.
She said the organization is open to anyone who is interested in keeping Iowa’s nature trails open, or loves horseback riding. “I really think women have been the driving force behind this chapter,” she chuckles.
Mission of the chapter is to “perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of trails within our area of southeast Iowa. To work to ensure that trails stay open and be there for the parks that wish to add trails within their parks. To help educate and inform all that use and enjoy these trails on how to best ensure that these trails stay open and are enjoyed for years to come.”
The SECBCHIA includes 33 members, and Sunday’s membership drive drew residents from Kahoka, Mo., Ottumwa, Burlington, Washington, Sigourney, Carmen, Ill., Brighton, Mt. Pleasant and Fairfield.
Two parks—Lake Belav-Deer Recreation Area near Sigourney and the Big Hollow Recreation Area near Sperry — have been adopted by the organizations. To adopt a park, the chapter signs an agreement with conservation officials and park personnel. The agreement lists what can and can’t be done at the parks.
In the chapter’s first year, it had three workdays, two at Big Hollow and one at Belav-Deer. During the workdays, chapter members trimmed trees and brush, raked and hauled gravel and limestone in to fill in wet spots, Wenke said.
“It is much easier to see the trees and brush that need trimming from on top of a horse because you are higher off the ground,” she said.
Some of those workdays coincided with near triple-digit heat and high humidity. However, Wenke said she enjoyed the work so much she hardly noticed the conditions.
She said the trails were not in bad condition — at least at the opening. “The parks people do a good job of maintaining the trails. For the most part, the spots that needed work were at the back of the trails where only horses could travel. We also erected barriers and gates to keep vehicles off the trails.”
Annual membership to the organization is $50 for a family and $40 for a single individual. “The state board takes 15 percent of the membership fee and sends it to the national organization. However, all that money goes back to the trails. There is not one paid staff member,” Wenke noted.
Connie Krieger Waters of Mt. Pleasant was assistant trail master and liaison to the Big Hollow Recreation Area during the chapter’s first year.
Wenke said nearly all the members of the group either ride or camp on the trails or both.
Looking over the crowd digging into the goodies Sunday at The Fellowship Cup, a smile came across her face and no doubt a warm spot glowed in her heart as she realized the group was maintaining the travels for use by generations to come.
Anyone wishing to know more about the organization can visit its website at www.backcountryhorse.com.
For a membership application, contact Morgan Endecott, state treasurer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 515-249-2520.