by Andru McCracken

Robson Valley Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen Association have a vision for a new and sustainable tourism initiative in McBride: Equine camping.

Eileen MacDonald says equine camping could be a great boost to McBride’s tourism economy. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

Eileen MacDonald, president of the local chapter said equine camping has taken off in other jurisdictions and there is currently nothing like it available between Alberta and Prince George.

“In the (United) States it is becoming a very big industry where the public travel in their live-in horse trailers,” she said.

While camping, visitors ride trails to local sights.

At this point MacDonald’s group has received a grant from the Rural Dividend Fund and is looking into the feasibility of such a project.

The group put out a request for proposals and has awarded the contract to Dunster based Specialized Forest Management.

They are looking at an area on Bell Mountain. MacDonald said there are a few trails no longer maintained by the cross country skiers that might be repurposed into horse trails. She said they plan to work collaboratively with all stakeholders, like skiers, snowmobilers, first nations, government and other land users.

“The focus is to promote (the area so) people stop and enjoy what we have in McBride,” said MacDonald.

“The equine industry puts a lot of money back into the economy.”

She said the tentative plan would mean creating camping sites big enough for horse trailer RVs. The area would have corrals and water for horses, but the camping would be very rustic.

MacDonald said there is great potential for working with other groups, and she hasn’t witnessed conflicts between horse riders and other users.

“Often they [hikers] are just so happy to see someone maintaining the trail,” she said.

Same goes with cyclists. MacDonald said a little planning and elbow grease makes it easy for the two groups to co-exist. She said commercial mountain biking had, in the past, pushed cyclists into areas used by horses without the planning and education for the groups to coexist. But in McBride, the Horsemen are collaborating with the cyclists from the outset and in areas where conflicts could exist (such as steep downhill sections) bypasses can be built.

“We work together very well,” she said.

Camping with Horses, a Facebook Group with more than 18,000 users points to the popularity of equine camping.

The Goat conducted and informal Facebook poll of that group to gauge interest. The poll only netted about 43 responses, far from representative, but thirty three users said that they would travel to McBride to use the facilities, eight said that it would depend on the amenities provided, and two said they wouldn’t travel to use it.