Update from Ron MacNabb, president of Trail Riders of Today:
We had a very successful meeting today (June 15, 2011) at the WSSC. Although we were not on the agenda, we did have an opportunity to speak.
Of the 30 to 40 attending the meeting, about 10 spoke and all stood to be recognized. Representatives from the offices of Senator Roger Manno District 19, Senator Karen Montgomery District 14, and Delegate Josolynn Pena-Melnyk District 21 spoke in support of horseback riding. They asked that WSSC retain the equestrian trail and work with the equestrian community to improve the trails and redirect the trail where necessary to reduce environmental impact. Ross Peddicord, Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board spoke on behalf of the horse industry in Maryland. He noted that the area surrounding Rocky Gorge represented a large portion of the total horses in the state including over twenty licensed riding stables. Horses are a billion dollar industry in Maryland and requires an infrastructure of suitable places to ride. The Governor, who is very supportive of growing Maryland’s horse industry, and the Secretary of Agriculture, have been made aware of WSSC’s new policy and the harm it could cause. The Gazette newspaper was present and took pictures for a forthcoming article.
By the end of the meeting, the Commissioners seemed quite pleased to hear from so many citizens. One asked for a tour of Rocky Gorge so that she can share what she sees with her fellow Commissioners. Two other Commissioners spoke up saying that they also had horses and could understand our point of view.
The last to speak was Mr. Jerry Johnson, General Manager and CEO of WSSC. He announced that he was requesting his staff to schedule a meeting with representatives of the equestrian community to discuss how offending portions of the trail could be improved to reduce environmental impact and discuss how the equestrian trail will be maintained in the future. We were very pleased.
I will notify you when I learn more about the meeting.
There are several things we can all take away from this experience:
• How fortunate we are to live in a land where we have the opportunity to speak up and officials will listen.
•How important it is to have citizen involvement; Grass roots efforts work. Your voice is important and it is heard.
• How important it is to have elective officials who listen and will speak up for us. Remember they need our support as well.
• How important it is to belong to organizations that support our interests. Get involved with them.
Thanks to all of you who wrote letters, made phone calls signed petitions, and came out to meetings.
It is not over, but my hope is to improve the trail, redirect it where appropriate and agree on who and how the trail is to be maintained.
Equestrians who live near or adjacent to the land owned by the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission (WSSC), such as the Triadelphia or Rocky Gorge Reservoir, or who trail ride on WSSC’s lovely land surrounding their various watersheds, are up in arms about recent restrictions imposed by the WSSC.
According to Ron MacNabb, president of Trail Riders of Today, the WSSC is concerned about erosion caused by overuse of bridle trails during wet seasons (and it has been very wet last few years), and the Commission’s solution has been to
1) close the bridle trails and redirect riders to the firebreaks (aka “access roads,” which for decades equestrians were prohibited from using);
2) restrict entry points to certain designated areas (prior to this, equestrians routinely entered the watershed from adjacent private lands);
3) deny access to the watershed in the middle of the winter.
Trail riders are still required to get the $60 per year user’s permit.
The trail-riding community, which, through TROT and other trail groups, has worked hard to maintain the trails in the various WSSC watersheds, is – understandably – very upset, as apparently WSSC made these decisions without any input from the equestrian community.
For recreational users, dealing with the WSSC is not like dealing with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources or Maryland National Capital Park & Planning or any other steward of the public land designated primarily for recreational use.
The WSSC land is not parkland; nowhere in WSSC’s mission statement is any mention of providing recreational use of WSSC land for the general public.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) was created through legislation in 1918 for the specific purpose of providing clean drinking water to the growing suburban community adjacent to Washington, DC (Montgomery and Prince George’s County).
According to the WSSC, it is the 8th largest water and wastewater utility in the nation, serving nearly 1.8 million residents in an area of 1,000 square miles. The WSSC owns and maintains more than 5,500 miles of fresh water pipeline and nearly 5,400 miles of sewer pipeline, and owns and operates 3 reservoirs (Triadelphia, Rocky Gorge and Little Seneca with total holding capacity of 14 billion gallons, 2 water filtration plants, and 7 wastewater treatment plants.
The land surrounding the reservoir serves as a natural filter for the watershed, and a happy byproduct of the watershed maintenance has been its availability for recreational users, albeit for a permit price.
Over the last thirty or forty years, many equestrians in the areas surrounding the watersheds have worked hard to foster good relationships with WSSC, to open new trails, maintain existing trails, install bridges and tunnels. Much of this land was the old Iron Bridge Hunt Club territory, and while WSSC does not allow foxhunting (unlike DNR), trail users have been welcomed and successful.
But bureaucracies are bureaucracies: new regime, someone didn’t get the memo, or someone is misunderstanding something…and some new government employee did not realize that there were established volunteer groups with which they could work to rectify a degraded situation. It is up to the citizens to rattle cages and bang some pots and pans. And if that does not work…call our elected officials.
The Equiery has no independent knowledge as to whether or not there truly was erosion damage in the bridle trail area. Have we seen horseback riders destroy trails by riding in the same rut over and over again until a new run-off stream has been created? Certainly. Do we know whether or not that is the case in this situation? No. Some horse people have sent us letters telling us that the bridle trails are in excellent conditions; other horse people who prefer to remain anonymous have said that some of the trails are in rough shape.
What is clear is that TROT and other trail organizations are eager to work with WSSC, are willing to repair trails – or relocate trails if necessary, and this certainly seems to us to be a reasonable solution…unless the WSSC knows something that it has not yet shared with the general public that would make trail maintenance or relocation of trails not feasible.
The Equiery shares the concerns of our trail riders that, if first the trails are closed and riders are restricted to only the firebreaks and emergency access roads, then the next step might be to ban equestrians all together. And truth be told, there is the very real possibility that, without proactive involvement from well-organized groups such as TROT, that equestrians could just as easily create ruts and new run-off creeks in the middle of the access roads, without proper oversight and maintenance…which in turn could be used as justification to ban us all together. The Equiery does not want to see that happen.
However, what is also clear is that the desires of equestrians (or other recreational users) are not a priority for WSSC…and understandably so, if the WSSC mission is to provide drinking water and sewer services. So, the horse people (and other recreational users who find their access curtailed) will need to be a very loud, but very diplomatic squeaky wheel in order to get on the WSSC radar.
Landowners surrounding WSSC may likewise have limited concern about their property values if their access is restricted…whether or not that holds any water with WSSC remains to be seen.
The Equiery applauds the efforts of TROT and others in their attempt to engage WSSC in a conversation.
TROT is encouraging horse folk to attend a WSSC meeting tomorrow:
WSSC Public Meeting, Wednesday June 15 from 8:30 a.m. to approx 10:00 a.m.
WSSC Auditorium in the Richard G. Hocevar Building, 14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, MD 20707
According to Ron MacNab, “This is part of a regularly scheduled meeting. We are told that the trail policy change is not an item on the agenda, but will be included in the General Manager’s opening report. The public will be given an opportunity to comment either before or after the GM’s report. The only way to keep the equestrian trails open is if there is sufficient public support and outcry. Your attendance at this meeting is very important. If you are a stable owner/operator or equestrian property owner near Rocky Gorge, you cannot afford miss this meeting.”
Meanwhile, share your concerns or comments with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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