By Robert Lucke
When Havreite Merlyn Huso takes a weekend off and enjoys his hobby unwinding while helping Montana to maintain one of its greatest wilderness areas, the Bob Marshall.
It all started when in 1986 he joined the Back Country Horsemen of Montana.
And even that organization has a strong Havre connection as one of its four founding members, Ken Ausk, is married to Paul Faber's daughter, Phyllis.
There are 16 Montana Back Country Horsemen chapters, and Huso belongs to the one that by definition maintains as much of the Bob Marshall Wilderness as it can east of the Continental Divide.
Huso has been the president of that particular chapter and has just finished a term as president of all the Montana Back Country Horsemen chapters.
"At one time, I was the president of the East Slope Back Country Horsemen which operates out of Conrad," said Huso. "We take care of a small county park west of Dupuyer and we do basically trail maintenance and some stringer bridges, things like that on the east side of the Bob Marshall."
Huso's area goes from Benchmark west of Augusta to the Badger Cabin southwest of Browning. This particular chapter contains around 65 members and keeps busy all summer long.
"We have four major work projects in the summertime," Huso related. "We coordinate them with the Forest Service to see what they want done and then we make selections. In Montana there are trail funds available and we have gotten a couple of grants to help fund projects."
Since joining the organization, Huso has worked himself through the ranks.
"We joined in 1986 and I had been the chairman of the East Slope group and I just completed a two-year term of president of the Back Country Horsemen of Montana and now I am a director of Back Country Horsemen of America," said Huso, chuckling.
Always looking for members, one of the goals of the group is to insure the right to use public lands. That is the direction they are going, and helping the Forest Service with trail maintenance and the like is seen to enhance the group's position.
"What we try to become is active partners with the Forest Service," said Huso.
Not only that, but another goal of the group is to teach others about horse and rider activities.
"I, along with Lou Hagener, have given horse and mule packing clinics for two years in conjunction with the Cabin Fever days in Havre," added Huso.
All the Back Country Horsemen help in places like the Bob Marshall is a definite help to government agencies.
"What we see happening is a diminishing of Forest Service budgets for trails and we are filling the gap," said Huso. "That is good and bad. Sometimes, maybe, the Forest Service sees us as a part of their budget and further diminishes that budget."
Montana Back Country Horsemen has a four-part mission. They want to perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses in America's back country and wilderness. They work to ensure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use. They assist the various agencies responsible for the maintenance and management of public lands and they educate, encourage and solicit active participation in the wise and sustained use of the back country resource by horsemen and the general public commensurate with our heritage.
With more and more folks using wilderness areas like the Bob Marshall, groups like the one Huso represents change their operations, too.
"Some lands are starting to restrict party size," said Huso. "We comply with that. Like maybe there can only be 12 heartbeats going into the wilderness. Maybe that would be six horses and six riders and the dog would have to stay home."
Best of all are the relationships developed on the trail.
"You establish real good relations. Lately some people have gotten really into Dutch oven cooking. In fact, that cooking is just a little too good sometimes," said Huso, laughing.
Best for everyone, though, is that when Merlyn Huso goes on vacation, along with his Back Country Horsemen, all of Montana benefits.
Interested in joining the Back Country Horsemen? For further information, contact Huso at 265-5327.