July 21, 2015
by Sarah Wynne Jackson
With the annual Double Diamond Award, Back Country Horsemen of America acknowledges a Back Country Horsemen chapter that has exceeded even their high standards of public service. Established in 2003 by the Back Country Horsemen of America National Board of Directors, the Double Diamond Award honors special projects and programs that best exemplify collaborative spirit, community awareness, and devotion to the mission and purpose of BCHA. Eligible projects and programs include, but are not limited to, trail maintenance, trail construction, trailhead construction, educational workshops and youth programs.
A Multitude of Skill
The Beartooth Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Montana won this year’s Double Diamond Award with their Ernie Strum Trail project, which was accomplished by one of the largest and most diverse group of volunteers and government representatives in the history of BCHA. This project ultimately involved five government agencies, fifteen private entities, and numerous individuals, which required tremendous organization and coordination by Beartooth BCH.
Formulating a Plan
The idea of a four-part trail complex to provide public access to McDonald Basin and the north face of the Beartooth Mountain Wilderness took root in 1999. Ernie Strum and other BBCH members had heard old timers talk of long abandoned hunter and sheepherder trails in this area. Despite limited access, the terrain lends itself to many recreational opportunities and was described by a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist as the most biodiverse area in Montana.
From 1999 to 2007, BBCH pitched the project to various groups and held meetings, which continually grew larger due to strong public support. In early May 2007 BBCH held a spring campout and barbecue for the coalition of government agencies and volunteers. They reviewed project plans and the proposed trail location on aerial photos, and visited possible trailhead sites.
In the following years, Beartooth Back Country Horsemen coordinated the on-the-ground trail building as funding permitted. Volunteers worked without the use of motorized equipment to protect the ecosystem. The Bureau of Land Management guided construction while the US Forest Service surveyed, plotted and marked the trail location. Ernie was added to the BLM Resource Advisory Committee, which enabled him to coordinate the project more effectively.
Many horsemen and other organizations donated their time and labor. In the very busy spring and early summer of final construction in 2014, 480 hours of labor (valued at nearly $17,000) plus signage was donated by BBCH members and partners in assisting Montana Conservation Corps crews doing the trail building. In addition, Beartooth Back Country Horsemen shared the actual dollar costs with BLM. MCC donated 232 hours of crew labor, valued at nearly $10,000.
A Celebration of Dedication
Although the trail was first called the Lily Pad Lake Trail, it was officially re-named the Ernie Strum Trail after his passing in late 2013, to commemorate his long and tireless work on the project. Ernie, a Beartooth Back Country Horseman from the first days of the organization, also brings lasting recognition and tribute to Back Country Horsemen of America with this partnership.
By July 2014 the trail was completed with an additional side trail to a scenic overlook on BLM land called Ernie’s Point. A volunteer built wooden benches on site from timber removed from the trail corridor where visitors sit to take in the fantastic view of the north face of the Beartooth Mountains.
An Example to Emulate
The support of such a diverse group brings talent and resources to the table that made this project possible even in times of tight budgets. Back Country Horsemen of America believes a project of this magnitude, with such an array of volunteer organizations working alongside so many governing entities can only lead to more seamless collaboration in the future. This cooperation will ultimately provide sustainable trail maintenance because of the ownership gained by all participants. Back Country Horsemen of America is confident this will serve as a model for others to follow.
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 regarding 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.bcha.org; 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!