Michigan Horse Camp Becomes a Midwestern Draw
The Allegan County Pleasure Riders' scavenger hunt, on horseback and on foot, at Silver Creek Campground near Hamilton, Mich., is just one example of the swell of activity on the improved system of trails and campgrounds designated for horses at the Allegan State Game area, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported.
The trails and campgrounds are beginning to attract users from all across the region as word spreads that they are ready for use, said Kevin Ricco, Allegan County director of county development.
“We have 60 miles of horse trails, 30 miles of them accessible through Silver Creek, and an additional 30 miles through Pine Point and Ely Lake," he said.
Not every site is a designated site for horse camping, but those that are are popular and enthusiastically used.
“The word is getting out and more people are using those trails and campsites,” said Ricco. “There's no area in the Midwest that can out-compete us. We've become a regional draw for equestrian folks. There have been several groups that have wanted to do competitive riding, a mounted orienteering group that searches for caches along the route, another group does endurance riding, part of a national group — they do 25- to 30-mile rides on trails.
"We're getting more and more of these special events as well as regional activity," he said.
Ricco said that as state dollars began to dry up, many of the smaller campgrounds were slated for closing.
Ely Lake and Pine Point are still owned by the state, but Allegan County signed lifelong leases to manage them.
Horseback riding on the trails in the Allegan State Game Area was a use that was grandfathered in, Ricco said, but only in specific areas. “With no designated trails, we ended up with a spiderweb of trails,” he said, some going through high erosion areas or those of sensitive ecosystems.
In 2004, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources called a meeting to address those concerns and as a result a “stakeholder team” was assembled with representatives from DNR wildlife, equestrian riders, hunters and Allegan County.
A marked trail system was organized, “but we needed someone else to take on maintenance of the trails,” Ricco said.
“That's when riders formed the nonprofit FACETS group — Friends of the Allegan County Equestrian Trails.
Jim Commissaris, president of the Allegan County Pleasure Riders, said his group has watched with interest as equestrians in the Pigeon River area work for changes there that would open up state land for equestrian use as well.
“It's definitely good news,” he said of proposed legislation that would increase access to riders.