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National Trails Day

National Trails Day

By Betsy Kelleher

     Being a member of the Illinois Trail Riders, I attended their annual meeting during the Illinois Horse Fair in March. I was reminded of the question, “What can I do to preserve and promote equestrian trails?” June, by the way, is Great Outdoors Month and June 6th is National Trails Day.

     The first Great Outdoors Month was proclaimed by former President Bush in 2004, to highlight a variety of initiatives including more active lifestyles, volunteerism, protection of our environment and enjoyment of our parks and forests.

     National Trails Day is a program run by the American Hiking Society. In 2007, more than 1,100 related events were registered in 50 states, and this year will again feature promotional activities, educational exhibits and workshops. To learn more about National Trails Day or find out about events in your area, visit www.AmericanHiking.org.

     National Trails Day was meant to focus appreciation and awareness on the 200,000 miles of nature trails across the United States. Too bad many of those trails don’t include horses. Equestrian groups, however, can schedule volunteer work days on nearby trails or have trail rides to help bring more attention to horses being part of the trail industry.

     Illinois Trail Riders is the only state-wide advocacy group for equestrian trails. As a member, I get a quarterly newsletter with trail news, legislative matters and conference reports. I also have a copy of the Handbook of Trails, Camps and Services ($20) with updated information on all the riding areas in the state. Since ITR is a non-profit organization, membership fees and donations are tax deductible. Individual dues are $15 and family dues are $20, so membership is very affordable. Denise Maxwell of Edwardsville is currently president. Check out the website at www.illinoistrailriders.com.

     So what can you do to promote trails in your area? First, join the Illinois Trail Riders to become part of a greater impact than any individual can be. Find out what is going on regarding equestrian trails and legislation. Look around your area for opportunities to speak up in favor of horses on trails. Attend meetings and talk to those who know what is happening. Become acquainted with local park personnel and see if you can help with current projects. When you become aware of a problem, talk to one of the officers of ITR and see if they might offer a solution. The ITR newsletter for February, March and April of 2009 had some great advice on page 6 regarding issues facing trail riders in Illinois and how to help.   

     For one thing, we need to learn how to share effectively. Trails should be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and horses alike. But to do that, we need to be sure our horses are traffic safe and dependable. We need to be courteous on the trail and get along by displaying good manners and knowing how to not spoil the areas we visit. Those who drink and ride or leave damage or a mess behind them hurt all of us. Training is needed for some who wish to trail ride. Horse clubs and stables need to become more involved in promoting trail riding. Madison County Trail Blazers, for example, is one area club that schedules several trail rides each year. Joining a local club is a great way to join the fun and promote trail riding!

     I have fond memories of the equestrian trail that I helped establish and maintain on the peninsula of Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area. I was proud of the many people who turned out for a trail cleanup day. I brought pizza and soda and really felt we were doing something great! My husband and I rode that trail almost every week during good weather and I can still picture in my mind almost every mile, every little hill and curve.  

     As it turned out, only a few other people actually rode that trail. Situations have changed and the wooded trails are no longer cleared and usable. Too bad. It was close to several area stables, and it was a beautiful place to ride and enjoy nature. I loved the fields of bright sunflowers, the mimosa trees in blossom, the songs of many different birds and the deer that sometimes ran through the area.

     We started going to Spanish Lake Park in St. Louis, a very nice well maintained trail, with good footing and some wooded areas by the lake. We have also enjoyed the new equestrian trail at Pere Marquette, which can be quite challenging. And since the last time we rode there, I hear they have added toilets! We haven’t been to Chouteau Island yet, but I understand that others are riding there. In the past few years, our riding habits have changed, due to gas prices and our lack of energy to trailer very far. 

     For now, whenever the weather permits, we ride around the barn, down the road, through a small wooded trail behind the pasture and around the edge of a big field. Actually, that little wooded trail is currently our special place! A one hour jaunt seems adequate now, and a more challenging ride seems unnecessary. Darn, I hate getting older!

     Fortunately, our stable has an indoor arena. But this rainy spring weather has been quite frustrating. The trails stay soft and the outdoor arena has puddles, and the indoor arena is often all that is left to ride in! I’ve tried a few horse shows, just to be doing something, but that’s really not my favorite thing. Yes, I do miss those longer trail rides!

     Life’s changes often leave me feeling a bit sad, and frustrated. Sometimes change is good. And sometimes that is just the way life is and I might as well accept it. True happiness is not based on circumstances, but on peace within.

     There has been too much death and illness around me for several months. Those trail rides through wooded paths used to help me relax, but now I sit by the lake and meditate more often, to soak up that quiet influence of nature’s peace.

     Psalm 19:1-3 tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour fourth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”

     Nature has its own way of quieting our nerves and inspiring us to believe. Riding the woods and trails gave me a glimpse of God’s glory—in the beautiful skies above sometimes with the majesty and power of magnificent cloud formations. I enjoyed the smell of honeysuckle, the beauty of various flowers and the songs of so many different birds—all blending to become a part of God’s message of love and comfort.

     One of my greatest joys has been to be at the right place at the right time to see a flock of pelicans during their migration. If you have never seen them soaring in synchronized harmony in the sky, you have missed something overwhelmingly inspirational! I can even remember vividly the very first time I saw them while trail riding at Horseshoe Lake. This spring was the first time I missed seeing them.

     True peace within doesn’t come from the beauties around us, however. It comes from our relationship with our Creator. It comes from believing the message of the 23rd Psalm: “Surely goodness and love (mercy) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

(Originally published in the June 2009 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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