Equestrians question Hacklebarney trail closure

Area equestrians voiced concerns about a trail closure at Hacklebarney Woods Park north of Villisca.
The Montgomery County Conservation Board voted in April to close a portion of primitive trails at the park, which raised issues with volunteers who put grant money and donations towards the upkeep of the trails that were earmarked for closure. The Montgomery County Conservation Board heard comments from the volunteers at its regular monthly meeting May 22.
Matt Morrison addressed the board. Morrison stated he’d ridden horses on the trail for 20 years, along with his children. Morrison said the trail had been instrumental in teaching his children to ride in the back country.
“They learned to cross ditches, logs, and streams and became competent riders, and developed a love of nature. We were able to take them to the Continental Divide when they were 12 and 14 years old. They had enough confidence from what the park helped them learn,” Morrison said. “Closing these trails now would take opportunities of this kind away from the younger generation. For what reason? I’m not sure. It would be a shame. We’ve spent many hours, and used monetary donations to improve and maintain the opportunity to continue to use the park. We have walking trails closed to horses, which we believe gives us all an opportunity to use the park.”
Barb Shipley spoke before the board. Shipley said she was unaware of the closure until after it took place, and was also uncertain why a closure was issued.
Conservation director Jared Spunaugle said the topic was brought forward because a lot of the rock at the head of the trail was uncomfortable to walk on, and also noted that the places where there were hoof prints in the ground were the only places where he couldn’t walk without staring at his feet.
Naturalist Cassandra Alfstad said she had a member of the public comment about a trail leading back from the former Boy Scout camp. The trail was never named as a horse trail, and terrible erosion was reported.
“When that comment was brought up to me, I brought it up to Jared and the conservation board. It was terrible to hike on the hills wherever the horses were tearing them up. I use Hacklebarney. It’s an amazing park, and I believe the diverse recreational opportunity is absolutely awesome. I love the horse people on the trail,” Alfstad said.
Shipley agreed that the trail to the boy scout camp was in bad shape and she felt it could be closed, but also made it clear the horses had never been on that trail, and that she’d told horse riders not to use it. As for other trails, Shipley said grants, volunteers, and donors put a lot of time, effort, and money into making the trails all-weather.
In addition to riding, Shipley said she had a vested interest in being involved in Hacklebarney.
“I have a lot of interests out there, I got married out there. I do a lot of things that have nothing to do with horses. If the plan is to save the whole park from erosion, you have to save all of it, not just pieces of it,” commented Shipley.
Shipley said volunteers had made a lot of upgrades to Hacklebarney. A shelter was donated by Pat Victor, in memory of her husband, Bill Victor, and a playground was also installed by Shipley’s family. The family also purchased the necessary rock to finish the playground site. Volunteers had also made considerable efforts to do trail stabilization at Hacklebarney.
“The volunteers not only make improvements to the trails, they also maintain it,” Shipley said. “I wrote to get trees for the playground. The trees were donated by Earl May and planted by volunteers, as well as sugar maple trees at the horse camp and the leftovers were placed at the regular campground.”
Also, the Red Oak Saddle Club, Shipley said, raised money for gravel at the horse camp, and they provided other monetary support.
“We have a lot of saddle clubs that send donations whenever we have a fund drive or need something. Saddle drives from counties beyond Montgomery County have donated to us. The Atlantic Saddle Club still has a trail ride down Hacklebarney. There are many people outside of local people enjoying their park,” explained Shipley. “Everybody is talking about getting people to come to the county. When those people come and need something, they spend their money in Villisca and that money stays in the county.”
Since then, Shipley has written grants for gravel to make trail improvements. She also mentioned a thank you letter she had received in 2001 thanking her and the other volunteers for all the work they had done to improve the trail.
Shipley left maps, photos, and other information for the conservation board to review, in the hope of improving communications.
“What I hope we all get out of this when all is said and done is that we open communication with all of us. We all want the same thing. We all want access to that beautiful area, we want to share it with everyone, and we want to keep it so everyone can enjoy it,” advised Shipley. “We want to pass it on to the next generation and teach them how to appreciate it and save it also.”
Since the item was on the agenda for discussion only, no action was taken at the May 22 meeting. Shipley asked when a decision may be made. Conservation Board Member Jon Spunagule felt a compromise could be reached.
“Speaking for myself, I think we can reach a compromise and get along just fine. I think I should go out and run the trails and see what everything looks like. I also think all the board members should do that so we can make the right informed decisions,” Spunaugle said.
However, Spunagule said there had to be changes from the meeting forward, in the way things are done.
“I think in the past decisions have been made by equestrians that were not brought to this board. Be that to blaze new trail, or place rock. Those discussions need to become more open with this board so we understand what’s going on. It’s not so much that we want to control what happens to all the trails, but we have to know what’s going on,” stated Spunaugle.
Shipley said every time a project was done, the former conservation director had been present. Spunagule said they now had three new board members, a new director, and a new naturalist.
Shipley understood, and said they had not done anything new since a new director had been in place, and she definitely wanted more open communications. Spunagule felt open communications would help a lot.
“If there’s a change to a trail, or if someone wants to put some new rock down, only one person has to come to a meeting, and then we’ll get a chance to go out and see what you want to do. It’s got to be a park for everyone, and I do believe that’s attainable. It can be brought up in public comment. It’s not going to happen that day, it may not happen in that next month, until we figure out what we’re doing,” Spunaugle said.
Shipley also urged the board to communicate if an issue had been brought up, so they could know when it was going to be discussed on an agenda.
Spunaugle told Shipley that there had been some complaints over equestrian riders violating the guidelines.
“I’ve been out fishing and watched them take their horses right through the water while we’re standing on the dock. There’s got to be some give and take there. I think as a board, we need to come up with some ways of enforcement. There’s more to this issue than just a portion of a trail being closed,” Spunagule commented.
Alfstad said she went horseback riding all the time growing up, and she was thrilled that the county had a park for horseback riders and wanted to make it known that she was in favor of having places for the riders to continue to ride.
Spunagule made it clear the board was not going to let things drop, they just needed a little time to see what the trails looked like so they could know what everyone was talking about.
No further discussion took place at the meeting.

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