Whether equestrians are moseying along on Ole Red or galloping full out on Funny Side’s half brother, thousands of riders have come to discover, ride and enjoy the ridges, plains and valleys of the New York State Otter Creek Horse Trails. Some fortunate trail enthusiasts have brought their darling horses, bought land, dug in, built homes and barns, and now created, “Friends of Otter Creek Horse Trails,” a stewardship club whose mission is to aid the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in its quest to provide ever safe and appealing trails in this edge of the Adirondack equine paradise.
New York State’s late 1980’s venture into the economic and equestrian engine known as The Otter Creek Horse Trails ranges about 50 miles north of Utica and 7 miles east of NYS Route 12. The beautifully wooded state lands lying along the western Adirondack border became 65 miles of trails that interweave mostly just past Chase Lake amid meandering streams and creeks in the Independence River Wild Forest and Crooked Creek and the namesake Otter Creek State Forest.
“Build it and they will come.” And they have — trail riders from all over the country and Canada; occasional hikers, snow sledders (and a few rogue wheelers) in season. At the apex is a seasonal Assembly Area replete with 100 roofed standing stalls in three divisions, two stallion stalls, a water system, three handicapped mounting platforms and handicapped bathroom facilities, plus an “overflow” no frills camping area amid tall pines and colorful birch, beech and maples.
The NYS Dept. of Conservation does its best to cope with maintenance and repair of the Assembly area facilities and the trails’ torment — wash outs, blow downs, the occasional tornado, and general wear and tear of decades. While the trails are 99 percent safe, vigilance and volunteerism have become the keystone for “Friends of the Otter Creek Horse Trails,” a concept discussed for several years.
In 2013-14, “Friends of Otter Creek Horse Trails” became reality under the auspices of the Western Chapter of the New York State Horse Council. In fact, Stephen Ropel, new president of NYSHC, encouraged by his wife Joan and several friends, has become the standard bearer for “Friends.” The 15 member Advisory Committee of FOCHT is composed of equestrians who live and own land along or near the NYS Otter Creek Horse Trails.
Countless hours have already been utilized to identify ways to best enhance trails and assist The NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation with them. More than a spade full of laborious washout filling, downed tree clearing, and trail trimming has occurred by volunteers in addition to the many efforts and tasks of NYSDEC. Volunteers work for free and often bring their own tools and equipment. Notations are made for a record of accomplishment and assessment of needs.
Hour upon hour over four months were spent to update the trail map for the Otter Creek Horse trails. While the actual trails have color coded markings via small discs nailed occasionally to path side trees, the maps are valuable, not only for convenience, but for location identification should a rider become lost or injured.
\Aspects for attention in the future include: better parking for long trailers, re-sanding of horse stalls, particular trail changes or trail work needed, and the need for port-a-potties in the overflow area.
\Another factor is that the Otter Creek Horse Trails have provided an economic impact to the area. Although the equine industry is a $9 billion dollar business in New York State, a few skeptics once thought that equestrians brought no benefit to the region. The belief was that they were self sufficient, bringing their own hay, tact, feed, equipment and food for a stay at the trails.
Devoted riders, such as these club members, have bought property and built; others rent private cabins that include horse stalls. Many crowd the Assembly Area — all 100 stalls, plus. These people shop in the local stores, gas stations and restaurants — and may have been the impetus behind a significant feed and tractor supply store opening on a road leading to the trails. The doctors, veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists and hay suppliers know the trails have increased business. Plus, most of the accessible trails are open to snow mobiles in winter, a major recreational force in Lewis County.
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo, furthermore, has recently announced a $250,000 Eastern Adirondack initiative to develop multi use trail systems as a further economic engine for the North Country around remote towns such as Minerva, North Hudson and Newcomb in Essex County, not far from world famous Lake Placid and Canada.
Hopefully, The Friends of Otter Creek Horse Trails will be a model for other equine devotees to emulate elsewhere throughout our vast and beautiful country. Here “Friends” are pleased with the initial goals, dedication, and accomplishments — only hoping that each year will be better and better.