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Through Oregon Equestrian Trails, Bob and Gloria Rice aim to 'harden' trails at Camp Wilkerson for year-round use.

COURTESY PHOTO: BOB AND GLORIA RICE - A group of Oregon Equestrian Trails volunteers work on an August morning.Volunteers with the Columbia County chapter of Oregon Equestrian Trails have been steadily upgrading riding trails at Camp Wilkerson and other locations, benefitting both fellow riders and other trail users.

Bob and Gloria Rice have been involved with Oregon Equestrian Trails for more than two decades. In that time, the group has built a horse camp, a mounting ramp to help riders with physical disabilities get on their horses and a bridge to cross a creek, developed the Liahona Trail within Camp Wilkerson and established multiple trails that start in Camp Wilkerson and continue into state forest land.

The main focus in the next year — and a constant, gradual effort — is hardening the current trails.

"We are continuing to work there to harden the trails," Gloria said. At one steep section heading down to a creek crossing, the group is putting in turnpikes, framed with wood rails and filled with rocks. "Otherwise, the mud was getting so deep, it was difficult both for horses and hikers," Gloria said.

"We can't say we can get it done in a year, but we take sections, whatever is the worst and we start working on those and harden them by adding the rock," Gloria said.

The trails at Camp Wilkerson are mostly used in the dry summer months. During the rainy season, the trails become muddy.COURTESY PHOTO: BOB AND GLORIA RICE - Volunteers work clearing a trail at Camp Wilkerson during a weekend work party.

"They get slippery in the winter, and we're going to try to make them so it's a year-round riding area," Bob said.

The work has benefitted hikers and bikers as well, all of whom are generally glad for less-muddy feet.

The Oregon Equestrian Trails group holds work parties out at Camp Wilkerson, doing repairs, maintenance and improvements on the trails and gradually expanding the park's offerings. The larger work parties have around a dozen people, Bob said. Volunteers have also done work at Dibblee Point in Rainier.

"There have been hundreds of people … who have worked on that park from the beginning of it, planning it, building it, doing the trails, raising money," Gloria said.

"We're still involved here right now, but there's been so many people that have been a part of making it happen and making it what it is today," Gloria said. Rory Hammond, who has since moved out of the county, was instrumental in getting the horse camp built. Riley Baker, the current director of county parks and facilities, has been "supportive in everything that we need," Gloria said. Susan Wellington cooks hot dogs for volunteers after the trail work parties.

Both Bob and Gloria Rice have been riding horses for most of their lives.

"I got my first horse when I was in my 20s and that was it — got hooked and bred some Arabian horses," Bob said.COURTESY PHOTO: BOB AND GLORIA RICE - The horse camp at Camp Wilkerson includes camping sites with corrals and space for RVs or trailers.

The two moved to Columbia County in the late 1990s after retiring from breeding horses and now live in Yankton with five horses, including two from Sound Equine Options, a horse rescue in Troutdale.

The couple rides the trails at Camp Wilkerson only during the dry months, with just a few day trips and a couple camping trips each year.

There are only around four miles of trail at Camp Wilkerson, but the group has developed 5-mile and 10-mile trails that start at the camp and extend into state forest, cutting through forest and using existing logging roads. Those trails aren't yet official, but the Rices are working with state foresters on that process, they said.

The trail within Camp Wilkerson wasn't enough to keep riders coming back, Gloria said. "People aren't going to come back for a four-mile trail … They're going to go on and find other places to ride. So by having these additional trails, it helps the park to get more people to come back."

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