Withlacoochee Forestry Center/Florida Forest Service
& Florida Forever Back Country Horsemen
Joe Tyberghein, WFC and Truman Prevatt FFBCH
Several years ago communications with the equestrian community were extremely limited or nonexistent leading to concerns between the local forestry office and horseback riders using Florida Forest Service trails. When a trail issue arose we would reach out to as many equestrian organizations as possible to try and resolve matters. Some of the groups refused to work with each other and it was difficult to get a united effort to make changes in the forest. As the local land manager dealing with issues relative to the recreation use and in this case equestrian matters, we were trying to get enough folks together to make some positive changes in trail use for the horseback riders in the forest.
Many if not most of our trails in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, were located on sandy roads and utilized by local 4 X 4 truck users. This situation was dangerous and needed improvement. Initially, the response was diverse and no two clubs agreed with the other. As tempers rose we ended up suggesting the idea of forming an equestrian club to unify and represent all horse owners in the central Florida locale.
There was little trust among the equestrian community for the land managers, and a frustration among the land managers with the equestrian users. Without the building of trust that comes with a working partnership - where both sides can sit down, listen to the other; understand their issues and constraints, the situation was not going to improve.
Little did we know that Truman Prevatt and Kathy Thompson would take up the challenge and create the Florida Forever Back Country Horsemen. We had our early disagreements, but it has been a few years now and this club is now one of our stronger partners working to bring a better experience for horseback riders and educating the public on the land management issues we face on a daily basis.
The first order of business was to build trust. This trust not only had to be built between FFBCH and Withlacoochee Forestry Center (WFC), it had to be built between FFBCH and the equestrian groups. The reason the BCHA was selected when FFBCH was organized was its principles were in line with what needed to be done. WFC didn’t have the resources to implement the changes that needed to be done nor did they have the resources to maintain the trails. There was a large population of equestrians that were not at that time active in volunteering to help the Center maintain the equestrian trail system. There was a three year effort the WFC personnel and FFBCH worked together to define reroutes of trails off roads to make them safer and provide a more pleasant experience for equestrians. Working together we have put together a system where the reconnaissance and most of the maintenance on the horse trails are done with volunteer efforts.
The Florida Forever Back Country Horsemen has become a well established equestrian organization working hard to promote better relations with the local agency, fostering good trail etiquette, providing better trail identification and overall trail maintenance, running clean up campaigns, and most importantly providing a strong leadership role in resolving trail issues in our state forests.
Today after four years of work, the Croom horse trails are a model trail system. The trails are laid out in a set of loops of varying lengths. There is a loop for those that want to go out for a short walk in the woods to enjoy a sunny Florida winter day. There is a loop for the endurance rider that needs a long training ride. There is a loop for everyone in between. There are over 45 miles of equestrian trails in the Croom tract and with the connection to the Withlacoochee State Trail there is over 55 miles of equestrian trails for the horsemen to enjoy. We are now working for funds to print a new Croom Horse Trail brochure that gives a detailed map of our work.
We believe the partnership forged between the FFBCH and WFC is a case study on how a good private-public partnership should work and a testament to the founding principles of the Back Country Horsemen of America.
This article was originally published in the Back Country Horsemen of America newsletter in 2011.
Forestry and FFBCH Volunteers Working to Open the equestrian portion of the Good Neighbor Trail