May 6, 2013
Contact: Peg Greiwe
Back Country Horsemen of America
Back Country Horsemen of America Remembers Rebuilding the Big Salmon Creek Bridge
by Sarah Wynne Jackson
Since this is Back Country Horsemen of America’s 40th year as the primary organization protecting our right to ride horses on public lands, they find themselves reminiscing about the projects that helped define who they are and what they can accomplish. The 1977 rebuilding of the Big Salmon Creek Bridge in the Bob Marshall Wilderness is one of those projects.
Taking a Stand
Formed in January, 1973, in Montana, Back Country Horsemen of America (then called Back Country Horsemen of the Flathead) immediately took an active role in keeping horses on trails. They learned that the US Forest Service was making decisions in the Bob Marshall Wilderness that would have drastically curtailed horse use.
One of those decisions included the removal of the Big Salmon Creek Bridge, condemned as unsafe by the managers of the Flathead National Forest. BCH advocated reconstruction rather than demolition and sponsored a senatorial public meeting in Missoula. Supported by 26 other organizations, the US Forest Service reversed its decision.
Under the Microscope
As people who believe in being part of the solution, Back Country Horsemen eagerly took on the next challenge: rebuilding the 143 foot long bridge (with a 112 foot span) located 20 miles into the wilderness. To many, the project seemed overwhelming, considering the sheer size of the bridge, the amount of materials required, and the logistics of building something so large without conveniences like motorized vehicles and electricity.
The world was watching. Would this small, newly formed organization have the knowledge, skill, manpower, and horsepower to complete the project safely and with minimum impact on the land?
A Necessary Task
In the summer of 1977, BCHA founder Ken Ausk led the 36 horsemen and -women assisting Flathead National Forest in rebuilding the bridge. They packed and hauled nine-foot-long bridge planks, cement, tools, and other materials from the trailhead at Meadow Creek to Salmon Forks in two stages.
This bridge wasn’t just a way for people to avoid getting their feet wet. A US Forest Service report showed this as the most dangerous stream crossing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, especially during the spring. The reconstructed bridge opened up many acres of country to early season use, which reduced the impact on the rest of the wilderness.
A Job Done Right
This project told the world that Back Country Horsemen get the job done and they get it done right. Rebuilding the Big Salmon Creek Bridge was one of the largest volunteer projects ever undertaken by BCHA in a single year. It entailed 1,300 man hours and 1,800 horse hours for the packing of 13,000 pounds of materials 20 miles from the trail head to the job site. The project was also completed without a single accident or injury.
This project was a defining moment for the young organization, establishing Back Country Horsemen of America as a group that has a true understanding of the high value of our limited natural resources, and is willing to put their own muscle and sweat into preserving them.
About Back Country Horsemen of America
BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at-large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes in regards to the use of horses and stock in wilderness and public lands.
If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website: www.backcountryhorse.com, call 888-893-5161, or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!