If you own a horse or ride, you already know about the Bedford Riding Lanes Association. But what about the non-equestrian population in town? If you’ve ever seen a yellow sign on the side of the road with the letters “BRLA” and wondered what it meant, read on.
Did you know that you can join the BRLA for $60 per year for walking access to 150 odd miles of gorgeous trails through Bedford’s horse country?
If you ask any realtor they will tell you what an asset to the property values and character of the area these trails are. Over 200 Bedford landowners have granted access through their properties. But the trails aren’t only for the rather exclusive Bedford horse-y crowd, although their enthusiasm drives the organization.
BRLA is also an active community organization. It hosts its annual Hunter Pace, held Memorial Day weekend this year, and a number of social events: last Fall BRLA honored landowners who allow these beautiful trails to run through their properties with a cocktail party, plus planned a barn tour showcasing local horse farms and estates along the BRLA trail system.
Those gatherings were full of interesting people: former BRLA president Bob Torre, current president Barbara Matarazzo, vp Caroll Bancell, as well as landowner Thea Fry and trail volunteers Stan Schulman, Klaus Selmayr, John Baruc and DJ Haverkamp. I didn’t exactly rub elbows, but saw Martha Stewart, a strong BRLA supporter—the trail does not run through her property, but she does utilize the trails. While on the barn tour, I had the pleasure of touring a perfectly preserved 1780’s cottage on the Wyser-Pratte estate, where they say Hoagy Carcmichael stayed and composed music.
Here’s what you need to know: If you want a map of the trail system you need to join the club. The maps aren’t public in order to help with protecting landowner privacy. Non-riding supporters membership is only $60 a year, and Barbara says that the BRLA has more than 1/3 of their 550 person membership are non-riders who walk the trails. “It’s really a community effort,” she said, “and we really welcome new members whether riding or walkers. You’ll see a lot of people out walking their dogs on weekends.”
Adopt a Trail Program Barbara says the Adopt-a-Trail program is really popular and gaining momentum. 55 sections of trail have already been adopted. Once a month they walk their section of trail, prune it, clean up branches. Why? Bob Torre said it’s “purely for the love of going out on beautiful trails and also the opportunity to improve that trail section. People love our trails.”
BRLA Maps and Oral History Stan is incredibly enthusiastic about the new trail mapping program. Together with a local horsewoman Betsy Perreten they have mapped the trails with a homemade GPS system attached to Betsy’s helmet. Check out the story here.
DJ Haverkamp is working on an offshoot of the map project. He is recording oral histories of the people on the trail and who have supported it over the years, sort of a map history for the future. Read more in the beautifully produced BRLA newsletter.
If you really want to know all about the trails look up Bob and Marian Torre. Their passion for the trails shines through when you talk with either one of them. You can find them at least twice a week riding the trails, or Bob driving one of horses in a lovely off road carriages. Click for pictures.
About Town: Bob, what is unique about the BRLA?
Bob Torre: Well it started in 1920 and was pretty unique then because the trails are on private property. Preserving trails in a very populated area is unique and can be a challenge. And we really appreciate all of the landowners who give us access through their properties.
AT: Is this 150 mile trail system unique in the country?
BT: No, but we’re definitely a leader in it. I get calls from all over the country asking how a group can set up their own trail system. I got a call two years ago from a woman in Pawling who then sat down with us for advice and started what is now the Oblong Trail system. And Bedford’s dirt roads. Thank god they stay dirt roads! And that’s thanks to the BRLA. One year BRLA members laid down in front of the bulldozers to stop paving! They saved the dirt roads.
AT: I was out on the trails a few years ago and they were really muddy in sections. How are they now?
BT: Better than ever! I heard from participants after our Hunter Pace that the trails were fantastic this year. We’ve done a lot of work and our volunteers have done a lot and the Trail Adopters have really helped. We have a full-time guy working on trail maintanence 5 days a week year-round.
AT: 5 days a week? What does he do?
BT: He has a truck and a tractor and little John Deere to work with. We put in water erosion bars. We have a weekly trail clean-up and volunteers work with him to clean up branches, fill in holes and muddy areas, repair and build jumps. We also have an annual Spring Trail Clean-up day. This year 260 people joined work parties and worked all morning, then gathered for lunch back at my farm. A real community and family event. We had around 60 kids join in.
AT: Can you give me some trail etiquette tips for non-riders?
BT: Sure. It’s wonderful to pull small fallen branches off the trail, and if you see a rock that might hurt a horse, we appreciate it being moved if it’s small, or give us a call. 234-BRLA . If you see a tree blocking the path, call that number. Within two days the tree will be removed.
AT: Faster than the NYSEG line! What about dogs on the trail?
BT: Dog etiquette: dogs are allowed on the trails but must be leashed. It’s tempting to let them run out there, but the reaction between a dog and horse is not always predictable or good. The trails are through private property and are a gift to the community.
I asked landowner Thea Fry what motivates her to grant access to the BRLA.
Thea: The people are just lovely. And as an environmentalist I just think it’s good to help preserve open space and trails.
AT: Are you afraid of liability?
Thea: They tell me there is a NYS law that says if you allow us to use property for recreational use then the owner is liability free. Plus the BRLA has an additional policy to protect us [landowners]. I’ve never had a problem, plus they help clean up fallen trees. I love seeing people use the land.
Long Live the Trails! What a great forward-thinking effort this organization has made, with the foresight back in 1920 that it would be necessary to preserve trails as population increased. Next maybe we address the right to raise chickens and bees all over Bedford…
Do you use the BRLA? Are you a member? Have photos from the trails? Comment below or send your pictures to us and we’ll add them to this article.