There is nothing more pleasant than horseback riding on the Allegheny National Forest for some.
But, there are some challenges local equestrians face, like accessibility and limited trails.
Barb Olson, a local horsewoman, said the Y Bar U Saddle club is about a 90-minute horseback ride to the Allegheny National Forest, but what a beautiful ride it is.
Riders meander (usually trailer their horses) to the end of Coal Bed Road where a generous property owner allows riders to camp overnight if they wish - with permission.
The destination is well worth the length of the ride - almost a mile from the end of Coal Bed Road - a breathtaking view from a hill overlooking the Kinzua Reservoir, Olson said.
"In June, it's unbelievably gorgeous," Olson shared. You ride into an opening and a "sea of mountain laurel."
The inlets at the reservoir are another of Olson's favorite rides.
Janet Putnam of Columbus, a member of the Pennsylvania Equine Council, agrees. The ride in Scandia is "open, it's like an old forest road," she said. A set of trails will "take you to the overlook of the Kinzua Dam." It's accessible on foot, hiking probably two hours, she explained. On horseback, it's about an hour's ride.
Both Olson and Putnam appreciate the opportunities the ANF provides.
"It is ANF policy to allow horseback riders very extensive access to the ANF," Putnam explained. "It's there for our use."
To make riders good stewards of the forest, the Equine Council has a trail stewardship program, a three-day seminar and a one-day seminar given regularly, certifying participants in trail maintenance work.
"We try to be good stewards," Putnam said. "Depending on the terrain" and number of horses on the trip, a group "can tear it up pretty good. It's best not to have a huge group" of riders.
Riding alone or in small groups, and the training and potential work on the trail are worth it.
"The beauty of it," Putnam shared, "all the great things there are to see, rock formations waterfalls, access to reservoir on horseback."
"I spend an awful lot of time there," she said, "many, many days on the ANF."
"The Allegheny National Forest (ANF) encourages horseback riding in several areas," explained Joe Langianese of the ANF, "the first of which is the new Spring Creek Horse Trail System located off of Rt. 66 in the Duhring area, outside of Marienville."
"This is the first official horse trail system on the ANF and has been in the making for over 10 years now," Langianese said. "Construction was completed last year and the finishing touches will hopefully be completed this summer. The Forest Service is expecting an increase in use because of the new trail system. This will be the first horse trail to be mapped and marked on the ground for riders new to the area to follow without the fear of getting lost or needing someone to guide them. Camping is available at Kelly Pines campground, which is run by the Forest Service. This is a first-come, first-served campground with five horse sites that can accommodate 24 horses in tie stalls. There are also two non-horse sites for regular camping. The campground offers some amenities, such as a pit toilet, manure bin, and non-potable water source for the horses. There are no fees charged at this time. Dispersed camping, without facilities, is possible throughout the trail system along Forest Service roads, following National Forest camping guidelines. Camping is also available through private vendors adjacent to the trail system. These vendors charge a fee for a variety of amenities."
The ANF also has special use permits with two outfitter-guide businesses to allow horseback riding on specified trails in the Hickory Creek and Kelletville areas, Langianese explained. The outfitter-guides offer overnight camping on private land and offer different levels of amenities. These trails are not marked or mapped.
The ANF, under the Forest Plan, also allows for horseback riding throughout most of the forest, Langianese added, which would include Buzzard Swamp and the Scandia areas, however there are some restrictions.
"These restrictions include not riding on hiking trails, occupying non-horse campgrounds, and not riding in Tionesta Research Natural Area, Hearts Content Scenic Area, and Tracy Ridge National Recreation Area," Langianese explained.
Under National Forest regulations horse riders, when riding cross country, cannot construct, place, or maintain a trail without a special use permit.
Langianese said he has "ridden most of the forest and can only say that all the areas offer their own unique experiences and interesting places to see. It would be up to the individual rider to decide which area they perceive as the most picturesque."
Riders are encouraged to take care of the trails
"Being a good steward of the forest is very important to any trail system," Langianese explained. "The ANF Forest Plan allows for cross-country riding outside the developed trail areas, however, riders being good stewards and following the 'Tread Lightly' and 'Ride Smart' programs will determine the future use of horses on the ANF. The Pennsylvania Equine Council (PEC), along with many individuals, have been working with the Forest Service as volunteers to help maintain the trails and campgrounds open to horse use for many years. The PEC has a Trail Stewardship Program which follows Forest Service guidelines to maintain not only horse trails, but pedestrian and motorized trails though out Pennsylvania. This training ensures that all work is done at the same level and meet the same trail standards as the agency requires. There is a three-day course to become a lead trail steward and a one day class for trail stewards. The ANF has worked in conjunction with other agencies to help develop each other's trail systems and campgrounds, and to improve the quality of the user's experience. The Marienville Ranger District has started an adopt-a-trail program for folks to help maintain the 20 trail segments with in the Spring Creek System. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer or wanting to adopt a trail is welcome to contact the Marienville Ranger Office."