Trail riders reach end of the road

? After eight years, a popular prairie trail ride that drew thousands of horse lovers from across the region has bitten the dust. Organizers said the Merrill Ranch Trail Ride had grown too large.

“We’ve met so many wonderful people over the years,” said Dee Scherich, the ranch’s manager, who was raised on Merrill Ranch and replaced his father, Virgil, as manager in 1976.

“But it grew so that it just got to be more than (wife) Phyllis and I had time to handle, with all of the responsibilities here at the ranch.”

In 1995, the Scherichs and area residents and family first organized the charity event that has since raised thousands of dollars for the Comanche County Medical Foundation.

Carole McCurdey and Porter Watt were among riders in this year’s final ride. The couple first met at the 2002 trail ride in southwest Kansas, 27 miles southeast of Coldwater.

Watt lived in Cimarron and McCurdey in McPherson.

Sunday morning the couple were married on the ranch’s campgrounds to the delight and applause of friends, family and fellow riders. After a brief ceremony and cake, they climbed on large mules and joined more than 250 riders who moved across the 17,500-acre ranch by horse, pony, mule and wagon.

Red bluffs, canyons, buffalo wallows and tall, sun-bleached outcroppings of gypsum make the area a unique visual treat. The grass — made lush by recent rains — was dotted to the horizon with patches of colorful wildflowers.

Many riders arrived with large trailers that housed animals and their owners. Others, like frequent ranch visitors Stan and Janet Roth of Lawrence, arrived by car and slept in tents.

“We haven’t actually planned it this way,” Janet Roth said with a laugh, “but this is where Stan and I have celebrated our last three wedding anniversaries.”

This year marked a marriage milestone for the Roths.

“I couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to spend our 40th,” she said.