The riders amble up the trails talking and joking with one another. Others break into a gallop, testing the endurance of their equine.
The trails sport deep hoofprints – some of the only evidence left behind as they cross the LBJ Grasslands just as settlers and cowboys did long ago.
Pam Roberts is one of the many who enjoy the 75 miles of horseback-riding trails at the LBJ. Fourteen years ago she left a marketing job and came out to the Grasslands, where she would later create the nonprofit group called Friends of the Grasslands that aims to carry out improvement, maintenance and education projects in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service.
Roberts never owned a horse until she was an adult. A city girl living in the Metroplex didn’t have a lot of chances to climb into the saddle and ride anyway. She had always wanted a horse, but as she said, “Life happened.”
But after retiring she moved closer and fell in love with the wide open spaces and the trails.
“It feels like the open west when you ride out here,” Roberts said. “It has varied terrain, some destination spots for views, all the seasonal changes in the foliage from spring through fall, and with 75 miles of trails, there are many times that you might not even run into another riding group or hiker.”
All of that combines to make the Grasslands a very peaceful setting – the perfect place to escape from people’s normal, hectic lives.
Marc Pons, a U.S. Forest Service supervisory biologist in charge of managing recreation as well as oil and gas at the LBJ, said the proximity of the Grasslands to the DFW Metroplex presents opportunities as well as challenges.
“We have an incredible amount of equestrian use from the single rider to groups requiring special use permits, which is typically those involving 75 or more people.” Pons said. “Being so close to such a large population poses a significant challenge in managing the natural resources. Keeping resource damages to a minimum becomes that much more important in this type of wildland-urban interface setting.”
He said the Grasslands are a destination not just for riders, but also for people who are camping, hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, hunting, photographing, virtual geo-caching and orienteering – to name just a few activities.
“Surprisingly, we find ourselves the host of many weddings, too,” Pons said. “We offer both developed and dispersed recreation use on the District. Developed recreation sites require a day-use fee while dispersed activities do not. We practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ ethic on the Grasslands which means … pack out what you pack in. This allows the next user to experience the same enjoyment as those before them.”
Pons said the Forest Service’s primary tool is educating the public on the long-term damage people can cause and how to prevent it.
“We accomplish this through our volunteer and partnerships programs, school programs and daily visitor interactions,” he said. “The Grasslands are part of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas and, as such, have a variety of specialists, like biologists, archaeologists, rangeland botanists, etc., to assist with developing conservation-minded programs.”
Pons said foresters also attend school functions where Smokey Bear teaches wildfire hazards, speak at special interest society meetings, and actively get “kids in the woods” with programs like ‘Our Science Days’ and ‘The Eight-Mile Walk.’
There is also a volunteer program to help conserve the Grasslands. To participate, call (940)627-5475 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Forest Service has relationships with the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Nature Conservancy, and other conservation-minded non-profit organizations that help educate people on proper land stewardship, as well. He said there is also quite a bit of riding at the Caddo Grasslands, which is managed by the local U.S. Foresters.
“The Caddo Trail Riders Association, Friends of the Grasslands and TADRA Trail Riding Association are invaluable assets in assisting the Forest Service to provide a quality recreational experience to the public,” Pons said.
Riders also bring international acclaim to the LBJ area. Roberts said the “old timers” have been riding the Grasslands for decades and the first official 50 miles of established horseback trails were created more than 15 years ago.
The LBJ has over the years become home to internationally qualifying endurance races. The Grasslands Spring Endurance is often the last qualifying event for 100-mile racers before attending the annual world competition.
“The sport of international endurance is on the rise, and the trail system is well suited for such events with one central camp and multiple loop choices,” Roberts said. “It’s a central location from other parts of the nation and a reasonable drive from DFW for international riders who may come to compete. The Grasslands has also become host to a more recent judged equine sport – the trail challenge, using obstacles, relationship, instruction and distance to compete.”
She said at any one time there might be more than 40 trailers parked around the TADRA trail head with two riders per trailer.
… dogs are loosed on the Grasslands. Field trail enthusiasts train their pups to flush quail in this judge competition held at the LBJ.
GRASSLAND RECREATION TIPS
- Make sure you have a hunting/fishing license;
- Pay the day-use fee, if applicable;
- Be respectful of others enjoying the District;
- Let The USDA Forest Service know if your experience was positive or negative and how it might improve;
- Report fire or any suspicious activity;
- Don’t cause ground-disturbing activity or resource damage (digging holes, driving or riding off undesignated roads or routes);
- Don’t gather material from the Grasslands unless you have a permit or permission (come to the office to discuss both); and
- Have fun!