Thirteen miles of horse trails now have four acres of parking at the Pine Cliff Recreation Area.

Following a year of grading and gravelling the Back Country Horsemen of the Croatan (BCHC) – a nonprofit group that maintains the horse trails in the Croatan National Forest celebrated the opening of their new parking lot with a day of riding by horsemen and women who finally have a good place to park their occasionally very large trailers.

The new parking lot was opened Saturday morning with a ribbon cutting by Jeff Kincaid, recreation director at the Croatan National Forest, followed by a celebratory ride of the trails by roughly 20 horsemen.

“We are very excited to have our parking lot done,” Katherine Taylor, a member and rider said.

President Edward Lloyd added, “It’s been a long time coming.”

The trails – three loop trails of six miles, four miles and just over three miles – were planned about 2002 and have been in place about eight years, Lloyd said. A parking lot has been in the area for a number of years, but it was in bad shape.

“The parking lot was started a few years ago by Better Intracoastal Trails (BITS), according to BCHC Boardmember Bill Burkhardt. “It really was not done well. The drainage so poor,” he said.

Seeing its poor condition, he said, the parking lot was too great a temptation to mudders who drove their trucks around and further damaged it.

The BCHC, whose main purpose is to maintain the trails, sought to enlarge and correct the parking lot.

“April of last year the Forest Service put gates up so we could close it off and start working,” he said. “We were lucky we had one of the people of our group who was an engineer and had a landscaping background. He worked with forestry and environmental (people).”

Through the use of numerous donations, planning assistance with the Forestry Service, and volunteer labor from companies, the club and single Marines from Cherry Point, the lot was graded and filled tons of gravel, and a retention pond put in place.

A bathroom was added and a heavy fence made of 6x6 posts and 4x4 rails encircled the whole drive way.

The trails are located in the Pine Cliff Recreation Area, a 4,600 acre section of the 162,000-acre Croatan National Forest, southeast of Havelock at 1300 Ferry Road.

Lloyd said there are few equestrian trails in ENC – most are in the mountain region on the west side of the state. All the trails are maintained by seven chapters of the BCHC, “and we are the only one east of Charlotte.”

BCHC visits the trails monthly mowing, clearing fallen timber and otherwise maintaining the trails. Though they are titled equestrian trails, the paths are used by trail bikes and hikers as well – no motorized vehicles are allowed, however.

“They’re beautiful trails,” he said, “and you pass an amazing variety of woodland and river.”

For information on the BCHC contact Bill Burkhardt at 252-729-3151.

Contact Bill Hand at bill.hand@newbernsj.com, 252-635-5677, and follow him @BillHandNBSJ.