Giddy Up!: Back Country Horsemen see potential in Roan Mountain trails

Published 11:07 pm Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wednesday morning in Roan Mountain a caravan of horse trailers pulled out on to Highway 19E en route to Rail Road Grade Road.
The drivers of the trailers were members of the Back Country Horsemen of East Tennessee, which is a chapter of the national organization Back Country Horsemen of America.
“It started many years ago when the Forest Service said, ‘Hey, there are a lot of trails, and we can’t take care of them,”’ said BCHET vice president Bill Watson. “So the Back Country Horsemen came in and said that if they could use the trails, they would help maintain them, and we do that nationwide.
“Our main purpose is to keep trails open and generate new trails,” Watson added. “That is what we are doing here in Roan Mountain with the Back Country Horsemen of East Tennessee.”
Wednesday, the group of riders had a whole day planned of riding trails on Walnut Mountain which is a part of the Cherokee National Forest in Carter County.
Watson and the group have been working with the United States Forestry Service for the past three years to get the trails in the Walnut Mountain area officially designated as horse riding, hiking, and biking trails. Currently, the trails are open for use but do not have an official designation. The BCHET would also like to see the installation of a one-acre parking lot on the Fire Tower Road, located off of Old Railroad Grade Road, to be used for parking at the Walnut Mountain trailheads.
“There are trails up there you can ride, but they need maintenance on them, and we are trying to get parking lots,” Watson said. “The forest service has to get that approved, and they are in the process of doing that. When the park service approves this, they will put out all the signs designating the trails and naming them like you see at other places.”
Watson added that USFS District Ranger Keith Kelley has been very helpful with the process and that the BCHET should have an answer as the whether the trails will be approved in the coming months or the beginning of next year.
The trails on Walnut Mountain are old forest service roads that make for great horseback riding and hiking, Watson said. The BCHET is also working with USFS to make connectors with some of the old log roads in hopes of creating loops for people to use.
“We have one now that is three miles,” said Watson. “We have another that is about a 20-mile loop so people can go out and ride 20 miles.
Watson also said that the trails would be a big draw for tourism to Carter County and Roan Mountain.
“Horse people spend money on food and gas, and some may even buy a home in the area,” Watson said. “Tourism is a major part of the income for the Roan Mountain area as for the county.”
At more than 120 members strong, Back Country Horsemen of East Tennessee works in Carter County, Washington County, Johnson County, and Greene County as they help clean the hundreds of miles of trails in the area.
“We maintain the trails,” Watson said. “We also clean the trails for the biking people or hikers. If go you down to Railroad Grade Road near the prison, it is grown up now, but we are in the process of cleaning that out.”
Watson also works on projects with the Carter County Parks and Recreation and the Carter County Tourism Council and Council director Kayla Carter.
According to Watson, if things go as planned then Roan Mountain could become a big horse riding area.
“We have the best place to live, and no other place has more to offer,” Watson said.

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