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Camp and canter in TNF

Submitted photo/Toby LevyFelicia Tracy rides one of the many trails at Skillman Flat, just 30 minutes from Grass Valley. The Gold Country Trails Council has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a large network of safe trails and campgrounds.
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One of the most enjoyable things about owning horses is to head out on the trail for the day or to camp overnight.

Escaping the heat, I broke loose from the ranch to explore Skillman Flat up Highway 20. It had been recommended often, and I only can kick myself for not taking advantage of this great equestrian opportunity long ago.

Skillman is in Tahoe National Forest, only 30 minutes from Grass Valley. The local nonprofit Gold Country Trails Council has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a large network of beautiful and safe trails and campgrounds.



One can come for the day or spend a week or more with your horses. Facilities include numerous hitching rails, well-built corrals, water troughs, toilets and campsites with barbeque facilities and fire pits. Eighty horses could be kept comfortably overnight. Skillman Flat opens when spring snows melt, closing when it returns.

We have an amazing resource of trails for equestrian and multiple uses available to us. It is important to remember that it is our responsibility to respect the forest and its environs, be aware of guidelines for safety and rules of common sense, and remember that good manners made for a good time for all. Skillman?s summer hostess, Sharron Weis, commented that ” Horse campers are out for a good time, and they are helpful and considerate.”




Equestrians need to understand, too, according to long-time Gold Country Trails Council member Sue Brusen, that when public lands are designated to a specific use, that’s all they can be used for, or one loses that privilege.

I wonder how many other riders have neglected to enjoy our forest trails and horse camping as I have? With fall approaching, it is hard to imagine a nicer place to go. Talking to people, I have the feeling that “out of towners” may be more aware of this beautiful spot that we locals.

Skillman , a group campground, is also host to various activities. The annual Wild West Endurance Ride is Labor Day weekend. Ride managers Robert and Melissa Ribley stay that three 50 mile-per-day and one 30-mile ride are planned. Horses travel at an average of f5 to 6 mph over the mountainous terrain, with the fastest completing the 50-mile distance in about five hours.

Horses are judged on condition as well as pace, so riders must be very aware of their mounts’ health and soundness. Most riders plan a three- to four-month conditioning period to prepare for any endurance ride, getting their horses out at least three to four times per week.

Entry fees for the Wild West Ride are $90 for the 50-mile entrants and $65 for the 30. This includes camping sites and dinner. What a deal! Should you be able to participate or volunteer as a timer, secretary or monitor of P&Rs (pulse and respiration of horses), call the Ribleys at 268-1378 or e-mail mribley@msn.com. Spectators are welcome.

Felicia Schaps Tracy is a Certified Horsemanship Association advanced-level certified instructor, an American Riding Association certified instructor, was a founding instructor for the Northern Mines Pony Club, and lead the horsemanship program at Ojai Valley School. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

Reservations are suggested for Skillman Flat, and can be made by phoning 478-9664. Trail information and maps are available at White Cloud and Skillman campgrounds, as well as Tahoe National Forest headquarters, 631 Coyote St., Nevada City, 265-4531. TNF provides a complete selection of maps and camping information for our area, including a special publication, “Equestrian Information Tahoe National Forest.”

Saddle Pals, an organization devoted to therapeutic riding for the handicapped, will be guests of Skillman in early September The camp would be the perfect spot, too, for 4-H horse project groups, pony clubs, riding clubs, and families and friends seeking a convenient and beautiful place to camp and ride.

Irv Mazor, president of the Gold Country Trails Council (269-3018) says the group’s 25-year goal of connecting local trails with the Pacific Crest Trail is about to become a reality.

On Sept. 21, equestrians are encouraged to meet for trail building at Bear Valley to complete the Discovery Park Trail, connecting the trails at Skillman all the way to Canada. It is a monumental project that will afford all of us with far-reaching recreational opportunities.


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