Riders on a trail in Finger Lakes National Forest. Credit: Erika Eckstrom
Erika Eckstrom, the owner of Painted Bar Stables in nearby Burdett, has a somewhat different relationship with the forest. She sees it from the back of a horse, often at a brisk pace, and takes advantage of one of FLNF’s unusual treasures — apple orchards.
On the trails north of the Backbone Horse Campground, she and her riders cross many of the pastures used by the Hector Grazing Association, as well as pine and deciduous forest, small gorges, creeks and abandoned fruit orchards, which are almost unrecognizable until fruit season. “Some of the apple trees — particularly on the southeast corner of the Backbone Trail — have some of the most delicious and wonderful apples,” she says. “In the fall, you can reach into the trees from horseback to grab apples for yourself and your horse.” The popular Backbone Trail is 5.5 miles one way, starts at the campground and is relatively flat — meaning easy for inexperienced riders.
Painted Bar Stables offers noon-to-noon trail rides with overnight camping at the Backbone Horse Campground. The riders meet Eckstrom or another guide from Painted Bar at the campground, where the horses are waiting at a hitching post. “Starting at the camp works best for most people because it provides increased flexibility,” Eckstrom says. After an afternoon ride, tents are set up; then, there is a sunset ride. Back at camp, the riders have their cars handy for charging their phones and cameras and have a way out if they’re too sore for the morning ride.
Laura Egan, a Manhattan-based visual artist, raised horses when she was growing up in Maine, N.Y., about 40 minutes from the Painted Bar Stables. Now, when she goes home on visits, she takes time to ride Mack, one of Eckstrom’s Tennessee walkers. “The landscape is beautiful,” she says of Finger Lakes National Forest, which she had never visited until she started riding with Painted Bar.
Parts of the Interloken Trail allow horses, and one of Eckstrom’s favorites is a section of the trail that goes through a pasture south of the Blueberry Patch Campground. “As you emerge into the field headed south, it’s a beautiful, grassy straightaway across the crest of the hill — perfect for a glorious canter, especially at sunset,” she says. “Then, you enter into a really lovely grove of trees. I call the grove ‘Little Red Riding Hood’s Grove’ because it looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale with perfectly spaced trees and lush, mossy undergrowth.” That sort of experience is what draws equestrians to the forest and what draws the ire of some hikers.
Forest Service District Ranger Jodie Vanselow says the problem is the forest’s size. “We’re so small that the majority of our trails have to be multiple use,” she says. “Whenever you have multiple-use trails, you’ll get hikers who don’t like horseback riders.” Hikers, like Rummel, say that horses, as well as mountain bikes, force hikers to step off narrow trails to allow them to pass. Vanselow adds that “horseback riders want more trails just for themselves. From a trails standpoint, the horseback riders are the most limited
here; they have the fewest number of trails.”
Whatever conflict there is seems to be well-mannered. Eckstrom says that she and her riders haven’t heard any complaints. “Hikers are always very amiable when I encounter them,” she says.