Churn Creek Protected Area

Horse Riders’ Backcountry Ethics

Horses are the traditional way to travel and riding is real pleasure. But horses’ hooves each exert over 1500 p.s.i. of pressure every time they hit the ground, which can really impact this delicate grassland ecosystem. The Churn Creek Management Plan was a public process that came up with some solutions that will allow for recreational horse riding over the long term and with no increased impacts on the environment.

Management Plan Guidelines:
  • Large groups (twelve or more horses) must register with BC Parks before leaving on their trip. They will be registered and provided with the “Leave No Trace” code of ethics listed below.
  • Groups of twelve or more horses must stay on roads and trails. Smaller groups may travel throughout the Protected Area.
  • Feed: Grazing is not permitted. This eliminates competition with wildlife and cattle for limited forage. Either bring your own weed-free pelleted feed, or arrange to purchase hay at the Empire Valley Ranch.
  • Horseback riders are encouraged to use the Calving Barn as a staging area and camp. Corrals, the barn and a pit toilet are provided. Water is available in a nearby creek.


Some Special Notes For Horse Users

The seven principles of “Leave No Trace” Ethics have been adapted for use by horse riders at Churn Creek Protected Area. These Ethics will help you plan your visit so that you can minimize your impact upon the environment and keep Churn Creek accessible to riders in years to come.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Reduce the impact by limiting your equipment and by taking only the minimum number of animals necessary. Take only experienced, gentle and fit horses. Practice backcountry packing and travel techniques with your horses at home before heading out.
  • Ensure group members have compatible expectations. Plan your route carefully. Familiarize yourselves with the regulations, potential hazards, and climate of the area. Plan meals accurately, and repackage into reusable containers to reduce weight and potential garbage. Pack out what you pack in.
2. Concentrate Use in Resistant Areas

  • The heaviest impact will tend to be around camp, so it is best to choose a campsite that can “take it”. The best place in Churn Creek is the Calving Barn, as it is set up with parking spaces for trailers and corrals for the horses, and has had so much use that the ground is hardened already. When selecting a backcountry campsite, please choose one that appears established, to avoid proliferation of new impacts. Camp well away from water sources. Avoid places where impact is just beginning. Hard sand or gravel surfaces are the best, followed by the thicker grasses of the upper grasslands. Lower elevation bunchgrass ecosystems are the most delicate because the lichen crust between grass clumps is very easily disturbed by tires, hooves or boots. Besides, these areas are well defended by prickly pear cacti!
  • Use lightweight camping equipment - fewer packhorses will be needed and there will be less impact on the ground.
  • Horses should be tied up overnight to a high-line. Do not use hobbles, pickets or temporary corrals, because grazing is not permitted in Churn Creek. Avoid tying stock to trees except for short periods or in an emergency. Put hobbles on stock that paws while high-lined. This method of restraining horses will keep them from grazing and from damaging tree roots by trampling. Choose a dry, hard area. Stretch a rope just above horse head height between two live trees of at least 20 cm (8") in diameter. Wind the ends several times around or use wide nylon straps, to avoid girdling the trees. Tie the lead lines at intervals along the high line. These must not be free to move along the high-line so horses don't get tangled up. They should be short enough that the horses cannot step over them or wind them around their necks. A swivel is required at each station on the highline for tying the lead shank.
  • You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, so take the water to the horse instead using a canvas bucket. Wetlands and creek edges are very important wildlife areas and quite susceptible to trampling, so keep horses away except when fording.
  • Groups with twelve or more horses must stay on Churn Creek’s many trails and old roads and this is recommended for smaller groups too. These routes are well marked and interesting; most are closed to vehicular traffic. If you encounter muddy areas, please go straight through them. Riding around the edges just increases the extent of the mud bog. Off trail travel risks harming the delicate soil and vegetation of the grasslands. If you must do it, spread out the horses laterally. One party travelling single file is enough to leave a lasting impact, which will in turn tempt others to follow.
  • During rest breaks, please stop off the trail on a durable surface. Horses may be tied to sturdy trees for short periods; please wrap lead rope twice around the trunk to avoid girdling the tree. Tend to the horses often, as a distraught horse can quickly damage tree roots by pawing or trampling the ground. Tie and hobble restless stock to prevent pawing.
3. Pack It In, Pack It Out
  • Pack out all your own litter and if you see litter left by others, consider bringing that out too. Reduce the amount of garbage you generate by pre-planning and repackaging meals into daily rations. Only paper may be burned in your campfire. Don’t burn laminated foil or plastics, they leave a residue and can attract bears. Here is more information on bear safety.
4. Properly Dispose of What You Can’t Pack Out
Human Waste:
  • Besides being disgusting, raw human feces can carry a number of dangerous pathogens, Giardia, the cause of Beaver Fever being only one. Proper disposal is very important. Never use streams or lakes as sewers! Use outhouses where they are provided. Otherwise dig a cat-hole latrine for your group to use. Locate it at least 100m (300ft) from water and well away from camp. It should be a trench 15 cm (6") deep - no deeper because the topsoil is where waste is most quickly decomposed. Sprinkle soil over after each use, and when leaving camp, replace remaining soil and naturalize it with organic debris. Toilet paper should be used sparingly, then burned in a hot fire or bagged and carried out. Urine is less of a problem because it is sterile, but go away from camp and water sources.
Horse Waste:
  • Horses’ waste is much safer than humans’, but it can carry viable weed seeds, so start your horses on the pelleted feed the day before leaving. Remove manure piles from camp and scatter them in the bush before you move on.
Waste Water:
  • It is important to prevent contamination of water supplies from food scraps or soap. Wash yourself and your dishes and clothes at least 100m from water sources. Avoid using even biodegradable soap as it leaves unnatural residues. Strain out food particles from dishwater and pack them out with the garbage. Dig a sump hole down to mineral soil and pour grey water into it. Fill in and conceal the hole on leaving camp.
Hunting Waste:
  • Gut piles and hides should be left well away from campsites and trails, as they will attract scavengers such as ravens, coyotes and bears.
5. Use Fire Responsibly
  • For cooking, portable stoves are far better than the traditional campfire - more efficient, quicker, safer and controllable. They are recommended as the best “Leave No Trace” solution. However, there's nothing like the crackle of a welcoming evening campfire. Churn Creek's climate is very dry, so there are often campfire bans during the summer season. Ordinarily, campfires are permitted in established fire rings. At the Calving Barn, no firewood is provided, so bring your own. In backcountry areas, collect dead and down wood only. It should be no thicker than an adult’s wrist so it can burn completely down to ashes. Fires must be less than 50 cm (20") tall - and smaller is better. Never burn waste other than paper. Extinguish the fire completely before you leave camp. You should be able to put your hand in the ashes and feel no warmth.
6. Leave What You Find
  • Let others experience the same sense of discovery you had upon finding interesting objects like shed antlers, colourful rocks, wildflowers, old buildings, etc. Leave things where you found them. It is illegal to remove or disturb such things.
  • Also, avoid damage to live trees and plants. Don’t cut them for any reason. Bring along lightweight camp furniture like sleeping pads, and tents with aluminum poles. You'll be much more comfortable, and you won't need to cut poles or boughs. Even nail holes in trees can introduce disease.
7. Be Considerate of Others
  • There are some in-holdings of private property within Churn Creek Protected Area. Respect them. Stay off the hay fields at Empire Valley Ranch. Call ahead if you wish to purchase hay from the ranch headquarters - it’s a working ranch, and the permittees don't have time or space to deal with unexpected visitors.
  • Be cautious when you encounter other visitors. They may be unfamiliar with horses and the appropriate behaviour around them - and your stock might become nervous. Motorists, hikers, mountain bikers and hunters also use the protected area. Try engaging them in conversation. This helps to reassure your equines.
  • Dogs must be under strict control at all times, and on a leash where it's posted. If your dog tends to harass wildlife or livestock, leave it at home!
  • California bighorn sheep and other eye-catching wildlife live at Churn Creek. Use binoculars and telephoto lenses to get a good view. If you are close enough that the animals show signs of distress, you are too close.
  • People come to the grasslands to enjoy the sense of serenity and wilderness. Do keep noise levels to a minimum.
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