Horses, trails and chili are the big draw at annual memorial ride

LANGLEY — It has been said that Russell Maugans loved a good bowl of chili.

He also loved horses and horse riding. Today, he will be remembered for both during the annual Russell Maugans Memorial Raffle Ride and Chili Cook-off at Edgebrook Farms in Langley.

Maugan’s contributions as an early Whidbey Island trail developer, mentor and blacksmith are well-known among his fellow equestrians.

And because of his love of chili, Maugans had suggested nearly 15 years ago that the Island County Backcountry Horsemen of Washington hold a chili cook-off after its annual trail rides through approximately 600 acres of forested land near Goss Lake.

Previously, the land had been owned by the Department of Natural Resources. In 2003, the woods were transferred to the ownership of Island County.

In the 1980s, Gary Putney and his wife Diana moved to Langley and built Edgebrook Farm.

While Maugans is officially recognized during the fundraising event, Putney was instrumental in building and maintaining many of the trails that currently criss-cross the woods. The only stipulation from the state was that he didn’t cut trees down or tread roughly on the land, said Diana Putney.

And protecting the land is what the fundraising event is all about. For Putney, the woods’ value cannot be quantified in dollars.

“In economic value, I don’t know if you could put a price on it. I think the emotional and recreational value is huge. So many people come here,” she said.

“The Backcountry Horsemen of Washington have been around for 30 years. Their primary mission is to keep trails use primarily for horse and mules, but also to do trail work. Washington/Island County does thousands of hours’ worth of work to benefit us, of course, because of our animals. But it also benefits other users.”

Which is why this tucked-away expanse of land has such value. It exists for not only the equestrians, but for walkers and mountain bikers, as well.

With many miles of trails forged, there is enough trail for everyone. But it takes volunteers to keep the trails cleared.

And that is where the raffles for the ride come in.

“All the money we make goes back to the trail upkeep and trail work, for the most part,” she said.

Putney also sees that while the land is enjoyed by the community, more trail users would be welcome.

“A lot of the people in Island County still don’t know about the beauty of this land,” she said. “I think that if people want to come in and enjoy the woods, that they share the woods with other users.

“That is how we’re going to keep it together, by working together and keeping the trails open. It also gives us more people to help with trail cleaning,” she said.

With Maugan’s name on the bill, the event is still bittersweet for Putney’s wife. Gary Putney passed away in November 2006 after a hard battle with lung cancer, and the county later named the woods after the man who earned a reputation as its strongest steward. After he died, it took Diana Putney several months to climb back on a horse and ride into the woods they both loved so much.

But now, she is back in the saddle again. She’s been preparing all of the raffle prizes, determining treasure locations on a map, and clearing space in her garage for the bubbling crockpots of chili-goodness.

Sharon Vanderslice of Clinton owns two horses and is fully aware of the value of trails that cut to the heart of the forested land. She also knows the value of the Backcountry Horsemen chapter.

“Going out into the woods, riding horses, clearing trails and enjoying nature are some of the things I enjoy about being part of the Backcountry Horsemen,” Vanderslice said. “But also the friends I have made through the Backcountry Horsemen and what I have learned from them, in terms of horse care, training suggestions and all kinds of things like that.”

For Vanderslice, who’s ridden horses for 55 years, the chili cook-off is only a minor portion of what the day is all about. It is about the ride and raising awareness of equestrian trail preservation issues.

“We also use our money on a state and national level and to support bills such as the current one that has made its way through the Washington Legislature and is now up before Congress called the Right to Ride,” Vanderslice said.

“It has to do with keeping open trails that have been historically used by equestrians that are in government-owned property, with wilderness areas and national parks, national forest land,” she said.

Equestrians, walkers and other interested trail users are welcome to participate. The Russell Maugans Memorial Raffle Ride and Chili Cook-off is being held at 2936 Keller Road in Langley, and will include a two- to three-hour ride and treasure hunt through the Putney Woods beginning between 9 and 10:30 a.m.

The chili cook-off, chili-naming contest and raffle will be held afterward.

The entry fee is $5 and includes five free raffle tickets. Additional raffle tickets are $1. The entry fee for the chili cook-off is $10, with chili entries being judged at 11 a.m.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at

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