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Balch Park Pack Station, A Hidden Jewel

Jun 28, 2018 11:00AM ● Published by Jordan Venema

Gallery: Balch Park Pack Station [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

Into the Wild

July 2018
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Balch Park Pack Station

THERE ARE WOODS, and then there are backwoods; camping, and then backpacking; hiking, and then mountain climbing. For every different way to experience nature, there’s another path that really gets you into it – exploring the nooks and crannies and meadows and streams that very few ever truly get to appreciate. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. You just need to know where to look and how to get there. And here in our own backyard, Balch Park Pack Station can help with both. 

The Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest’s name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but just outside Springville and adjacent to Sequoia National Forest, this park is a remnant of pure California woods. 

“Luckily it gets overlooked because it is a hidden jewel,” says Dianne Shew, who runs Balch Park Pack Station with her husband, Tim.

There are woods, and then there are backwoods; camping, and then backpacking; hiking, and then mountain climbing. For every different way to experience nature, there’s another path that really gets you into it – exploring the nooks and crannies and meadows and streams that very few ever truly get to appreciate. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. You just need to know where to look and how to get there. And here in our own backyard, Balch Park Pack Station can help with both. 

The Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest’s name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but just outside Springville and adjacent to Sequoia National Forest, this park is a remnant of pure California woods. 

“Luckily it gets overlooked because it is a hidden jewel,” says Dianne Shew, who runs Balch Park Pack Station with her husband, Tim.

Shew discovered that hidden gem more than 30 years ago when visiting from Tennessee.

“Tim’s brother was in the Marines and stationed in California, and he was working on cattle ranches, and during college my husband would come out and help,” says Shew. “I came out one once, and when I saw Balch Park Pack Station, I just fell in love with it.”

So much that she and Tim took over operations at the station, though its history goes a bit farther back.

“It’s been here I think since the 1920s, but on its current site since 1969,” explains Shew. “Though it used to be a whole lot bigger operation.” 

That was a time before air conditioning and Internet, when people would “go and spend their summers up in the mountains,” says Shew. But in a weird twist, what hasn’t been good for the collective culture (depending how you look at it) has been a boon for the backwoods. The park remains relatively untouched. 

“It looks like it looked when I came here 35 years ago,” agrees Shew, and with Balch Park Pack Station, visitors experience an untouched wilderness that is surprisingly close to home.

The Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest has more than 5,000 Oak Grove Sequoias, says Shew, and “ferns that reach up to your chest.” Through Balch Park, visitors can organize trips by horseback that start at 6,500 feet elevation at the station, and climb to more than 9,000 feet.

“We do everything, and we customize every trip,” says Shew about the trips offered through Balch Park. 

Whether you want to fish in a hidden stream or camp by an untouched meadow, the station will pack in small parties, and also take care of setting up camp and cooking.

“They bring their sleeping bag and their fishing gear and personal items, and then we provide everything else,” explains Shew. “We charge them by the day, and we take them in and stay with them, and we cook, and set up the tents, and go on day rides to different places.”

For visitors who have their gear and want a bit more solitude, “we’ll take you in and drop you off and leave you with all your gear, and we’ll come back on a set date and pick you up and pack you out,” she continues. But however you go, “it’s total wilderness that we go into.”

Balch Park can pack visitors 12, 13 miles up into the Golden Trout Wilderness, even into Sequoia National Park, “and you don’t see anybody,” says Shew.

Though the park remains relatively untouched, Shew says they don’t mind sharing it with others, though she likes to keep groups small. “Four to five people is ideal, and technically in the backcountry you’re limited to 15.”

“It’s my job to protect this place,” Shew continues. “So we have rules on how far you camp from the stream, how you store your food and how to build fires and put them out, and how we try to keep the horses out of the meadows and keep people on the trails. It goes on and on.” 

For those willing to respect the space, Balch Park offers a unique way to see it.

“When you’re riding a horse, you can see everything,” explains Shew. “You can enjoy the trail because the horse is doing everything for you.” 

And whether you want to see meadows or canyons or rivers, Balch Park Pack Station will find the place perfect for you.

“I ask some questions and decide what’s the best fit for you,” explains Shew. “I know the whole area, how many miles, and what’s around. There are thousands of acres, and you could ride for days, but I’m perfectly at home there.” 

Perfectly at home, and a place that never gets old for Shew.

“It’s the wildlife, and the stars at night – the shooting stars everywhere – and the giant Sequoias, or seeing fish in the streams that race around your horse’s feet, and vistas where you get so high and as far as you can see there’s nothing,” says Shew. “It’s why I never get tired of it.” •


www.balchpark.com


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