Debate Continues Over Horse Trails On Conservation Board Land

O’Brien County, Iowa (OCBTC) — The debate about adding bridle trails to county land continued at the November meeting of the O’Brien County Conservation Board.

Patty Vollink was the first speaker to address the board. She described a tour she had taken with Brian Schimmer, Darwin Dau, Claude Struve and Carolyn Bootsma of the trails around the Prairie Heritage Center in October. She said, “All of us were in awe of the beauty of the area and impressed with the well maintained trails.” In addition they had marked a trail through the timber at the suggestion of Brian Schimmer saying it would be a good horse trail. She shared with those present at the meeting pictures of the area and a map of the proposed trail. During her presentation she said, “We have met with resistance to our request to allow horses on the trails of O’Brien County Conservation land. There is a concern that ATV riders will be the next special interest group that will request access to the trails.” Currently ATVs are not allowed on the trails of neighboring counties due to the disruption to the wildlife in the area and damage they cause to the trails. It is doubtful that Conservation would allow ATVs to use the trails in O’Brien county. She ended her presentation stating. “It is my hope that by next summer I will be able to take my grandchildren on a trail ride to show them this beautiful and historic area of O’Brien County.”

Keith Rohwer was the next to speak to the board. He pointed out that horses are a natural part of the landscape and that wildlife is minimally disturbed by their presence. He said he thought that volunteers would come forward to help clear and upkeep equine trails. He added that opening the trails to horses would also attract people from out of the area to come explore the trails.

Jolene Hultgren of Back Country Horseman was next to address the board. She described the work done to the Bridle trails at Bertram Reservation in Clay County. They work closely with the land managers and work to maintain and upkeep trails using volunteers. She stated that they are more than willing to act as a support group for the horseman in the area. They are more than willing to answer questions and offer other support where possible.

John Farrell, President of O’Brien County Sportsmen’s then addressed the board. He first thanked the board for the opportunity to speak and then outlined the purpose of the O’Brien County Sportsmen’s Club stating, “The mission of our club is to raise and expend funds for the promotion of fisheries and wildlife. To promote outdoor activities and actively engage in fisheries and wildlife habitat creation and improvement and restoration” He described projects the has been involved within the county and some of the fundraising efforts of the club. He went on to say, “However, in regards to the proposed change of use of county lands to allow equestrian activity the majority of the sportsman’s club board and members that have contacted me personally are opposed to these changes. Some of the main reasons for this opposition include the disruption of wildlife activity on these lands as well of possible loss of quality wildlife habitat which goes directly against our clubs mission.” He went on to state the club has raised approximately $750,000 to help provide the lands to the county since its inception in 1986. He then referred to several reports which he referenced he had found regarding the impact of horses on the land. He ended his address with, “In closing our club wants the best for O’Brien County and the natural habitats, fisheries and wildlife. We have had as many as 600 members in our club in the past, and we currently speak for the nearly 400 members, donors and supporters that have helped our club be successful for the last thirty plus years. I am here to say that equestrian trail activities should not be permitted on these lands.

Next to speak was Andrew Kathman, a conservation officer and a member of the O’Brien County Sportsmen’s Club. After he introduced himself he stated that some people had issues with him being on both boards, although one member of the audience did say they did not have such an issue with him. Kathman stated he agrees with his board members, motioning toward John Farrell. He also expressed concern in regards to erosion problems, following up he asked how do the riders go down the trail side by side or behind one another? He stated his issue with the erosion problem was on the steep terrain. He expressed concern over the enlarging on the parking to allow the horse trailers access. He said, “I am on both boards, I understand, I get both things, I do, Uhmm like John was saying where is it going to end I don’t know.” He went on to talk about Bertram and the improvements that had been done there, but did express concern about getting volunteers to keep the trails up. Jolene Hultgren said, “We are to help, if you need volunteers ask.” Kathman said, addressing the board, “Something for the board to think about, something I kinda thought about, maybe add a fee of some type, maybe it would have to be a membership of the sportsmen’s club in order to ride, since this was the first property we bought…”

It was pointed out by an audience member, Tom Konz, that the sportsman’s club did not buy the property, but only had put part of the down payment on the property. John Farrell then said, “I misspoke at the September meeting, I am sorry for that.” He added. “The O’Brien County Historical Society put in $6000 and the club put in the rest to come up with $25,000, 25% down of the cost and the rest was paid for with the use of wildlife habitat stamps.” Konz stated that, “If you want to own a piece of ground and have executive rights to it to do whatever you want with it, then you have to pay the money the county is putting into it to maintain it, which you and I talked about this, you start pushing $500,000 a year out of our budget to maintain stuff like this that’s a huge deal and I think it involves the whole county not just the people in this room. We are all paying that, and if people understand what we are doing here, it is a big mess, and we don’t want to go there and what you’re trying to say here where you own this ground its not that way. I understand the Sportsman’s Club. I’ve been a member for many, many years and most people here.”

Darwin Dau OCCB Board member, said he had worked on the proposed trail map for 3 weeks. He said he was not a hunter nor a horseman, he tried to be fair and had looked the entire county over before coming up with the proposed map.

Kathman suggested another area that was for sale and adjacent to land already owned by the county as a possible area for equine trails.

No action was taken on the matter.

Story courtesy of our News Partner, the O’Brien County Bell-Times-Courier Newspaper.