There is a lot of discussion going on concerning the new long range plan for the Buffalo National River. The Arkansas Times just posted an interesting article about it on their blog. Here is an excerpt:
Equestrian use of the park is a point of contention, Ben Milburn, who runs Buffalo River Outfitters, a canoe rental and guide service business in St. Joe, said. He attended the Springdale and Harrison meetings and said folks at the former were likely to suggest limits on horseback use and that the opposite was true at the latter.
A little editorial on my part, the idea of horses on trails in the area worries me. My first experience with horses on the trail was in Montana on a backpacking trip several years ago. The trailhead that would take us deep into the Beartooth Mountains was shared with equestians. Now maybe I should back up a little, as I kid I worked on a stock farm cleaning stalls and taking care of the horse barn. I have a lot of respect for horses. The problem I’ve found was usually the riders. I’ll get to that in a bit. The Montana trail was dry except for some wide areas where horses had obviously stopped or where they walked two or more abreast. We were forced to skirt these areas as we headed up past the horse area and into the backcountry. On the way out about a week later it was raining steady all day. This was not a problem until we got back into the horse area where we found ourselves trying to cross ponds that had formed on the trail in these same wide areas. Wading through the muck was slow and dirty. I even fell in at one point. (yuck)
I’ll fast forward now to a trail I was recently mountain biking on that was a multi-use trail servicing equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers. Again we kept coming across these wide spots and creek crossing that were so torn up from horse hooves that we had to dismount and carry our bikes though. Coming upon some horseback riders we got off our bikes and walked around the horses so we wouldn’t spook them. They were all just standing (the horses not the riders) in the middle of one of these “ponds” totally oblivious to the damage they were doing to the trail. One of them slipped the cell phone from her ear long enough to thank us for our consideration. I fell in another one of these puddles about a mile up the trail.
I have seen some trails that were designed very well forcing equestrians to ride single file but I worry that eventually these trails too will be damaged. I know some will argue that my mountain bike damages trail also. Remember though that my bike with me on it weighs less than 250 pounds and it rolls on the ground instead of walking. Also, that horse and rider weigh in at over half a ton and contact with the ground is usually made with iron shoes. The trail doesn’t have a chance.
Another issue with horses is that their waste can often time carry the seed on non-native plants. How would you like to see the Buffalo National river overrun with Kudzu? So my only real issue in this long range plan is please limit the use of horses in this pristine area.
You can get more information and voice your concerns about the Plan at the NPS site here: Buffalo NR