The Back Country Horsemen of B.C. started out 25 years ago as a kitchen table discussion at the Aldergrove home of Jim and Marilyn McRae, with the first chapter of the club in this province based in Aldergrove.
It has since grown to a province-wide movement of over 800 active volunteer members in 17 regional chapters.
Jim McRae had been inspired by the Back Country Horsemen of America, who were always willing and able to help him during his daunting 1988 solo ride of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to B.C. In the following year Jim McRae participated in Washington State’s Wagon Train Centennial Celebration, and once again he observed the helping hands of the Back Country Horsemen of America.
Jim McRae rallied the support of likeminded horse-people in B.C. and on June 11, 1991, the Back Country Horsemen of B.C. received its official non-profit society status.
Since that time Jim McRae has been the driving force behind the club, and its core mandate remains protecting the right to ride the trails in the province. To this end the club members provide funds and countless volunteer hours to upgrade and maintain shared-use trails and campsites, in concert with B.C. Parks and Forests ministries and other government agencies.
“If you want something done you’ve got to help,” observes the current chairman of BCHBC’s Aldergrove chapter, Brian Harder. “There never is, nor ever will be, enough money if you’re counting on the government to do everything.”
Brian and wife, Vivian, have been members of the Aldergrove chapter for about 10 years and have participated in many of the work bees across B.C., including the ongoing South Langley Trail project.
That latter project, which will connect Campbell Valley and Aldergrove Regional Parks with a safe riding trail along 8 Avenue, is nearing completion of its most difficult leg, thanks to the BCHBC Aldergrove volunteers.
This section of the trail, between 256 and 264 Streets, follows a municipal road allowance but the road has never been built because of the topography, with a steep hill and swamp that has made a road for vehicles cost-prohibitive to build. However, the Township of Langley has been supportive of the trail plan for that route and has provided funding for the engineering as well as construction of boardwalks across the swamp.
For its part BCHBC Aldergrove members have raised money for gravel for the trail, as well as provided heavy equipment and volunteer labour for the project, which exceeds $60,000 in value.
Another BCHBC Aldergrove member, Jack Breaks, has provided his heavy equipment business and expertise at no charge to this trail — and many other similar projects in B.C. – over the years.
“Jack has put in immense hours to helping make it complete,” says Brian Harder. “He’s our lead guy, he’s got the equipment and know-how.”
Township contractors have completed the two 150-metre long boardwalks and concrete footings and await BCHBC volunteer workbees to complete the top coat and the ramps leading to the boardwalks. This workbee was to be done in October, however, the BCHBC volunteers are so heavily booked up with similar trail projects in the Skagit Valley, Golden Ears and Merritt that the South Langley Trail work will have to wait until November.
“We have a lot of joint projects with the Yarrow chapter of BCHBC in the Chilliwack Valley, Vedder Mountain and Cascades areas, and Jack Breaks has been working full-time on the Golden Ears contract, but the South Langley Trail will be our next priority,” says Brian Harder. “That will leave only the section of trail between 264 and 272 Streets to be completed. I’m not sure what the Township plans are but probably it will be alongside 8 Avenue on the road allowance, with some sort of buffer between the trail and road.”
PHOTO: Work on the trails and facilities at Lundbom Lake, near Merritt, has been a provincial initiative of the Back Country Horsemen of B.C. (Submitted)
With 139 members the Aldergrove chapter is the largest of the 17, soon-to-be 19, BCHBC chapters in the province. Jim McRae has moved to a ranch in Tulameen but remains active in the organization and is working on establishing a new chapter in Tulameen.
“We do a lot of education too,” says Brian Harder. “We have speakers at our meetings from Search and Rescue, the SPCA, and veterinarians, as well as demonstrations on packing horses, trailer safety, chainsaw training and wilderness First Aid.
“Our members come from all backgrounds, working people, retirees, professionals. A couple don’t even have horses, they’re just interested. Our big thing is shared-use trails — a lot of mountain bikers use the facilities and trails, and we all work together to get along and not cause conflicts.”
Then there is the fun aspect, when the members get to enjoy the fruits of their labours. The Aldergrove chapter organizes and participates in a variety of seasonal rides, from day rides to extended “rig rides” with campers and trailers, here in the Fraser Valley and in the upcountry wilderness. There is also their annual “Rendezvous,” where the BCHBC get together for three days of fun.
BCHBC Aldergrove welcomes guests to their monthly meetings, and membership dues if you decide to join are $45 a year (BCHBC members must also join Horse Council of B.C. for insurance purposes). For more information and contacts see their website at http://www.bchorsemen.org/.
Back Country Horsemen of B.C. Aldergrove chapter members on a day ride near Deroche. Dogs are not usually permitted on rides for safety reasons, but occasionally exceptions are made. (Vivian Harder photo)