by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the June 2020 Equiery)

Nestled on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Caroline and Queen Anne’s Counties, the 4,000-acre Tuckahoe State Park is one of Maryland’s hidden wonders. Many people do not know what the park truly has to offer. Woods, streams, marshlands and a 60-acre lake make the park a perfect destination for scenic hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, picnicking, camping and horseback riding.

Tuckahoe is part of the Maryland Parks System and run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The land acquisition for the park began in 1963 with the first facilities open to the public in 1975. The park includes the 500-acre Adkins Arboretum, which preserves over 600 species of native plants, and the 20-acre Tuckahoe Equestrian Center.

Although the park’s official website says it holds 20 miles of scenic multi-use trails, thanks to the efforts of Tuckahoe Equestrian Center members, it will soon boast 48 miles of multi-use trails!

The Equestrian Center
In 1992, the former Crouse farm became the Tuckahoe Equestrian Center under the guidance of founding member Cindy Berkey. The 20-acre center within the state park is located in Queen Anne’s County and includes a barn with several stalls, clubhouse, picnic area, outdoor arena, announcer’s stand and jousting path.
Supporters of TEC joined forces to create the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization to both promote all types of equestrian activities at the park and help maintain the equestrian center. Like many other non-profits around the state, the organization is staffed by a group of volunteers that organize activities and trail upkeep. Various fundraisers are held throughout the year to pay for maintaining TEC’s facilities, both in person and digital fundraising.

Current TEC president Linda Middleton is proud of the variety of equestrians who use the center, stating, “We have more than just trail riders come here. People can use the ring and camp out with their horses. Plus there is jousting!” According to Tuckahoe Park Ranger Debbie Cooper-Hughs, camping in general is the park’s biggest draw.

Linda pointed out that camping within the TEC grounds is reserved for members only. “It is a perk of being a member and draws a lot of people,” she said. Interestingly, the idea for member-only camping came from not only a longtime supporter of TEC, but a longtime supporter of the Maryland Horse Council, Royce Herman. “Tuckahoe is one of the few state parks that you can camp with your horse and by adding a bit to our membership dues, it makes camping a big draw for our members and helps support renovations to the center,” he said.

Royce’s Vision
Royce Herman began riding when he was 10 years old living in New Jersey. He never had any formal lessons and learned from watching those around him. Royce was a 4-H member as a kid and seemed drawn to Western riding at an early age. At some point he was introduced to Cowboy Mounted Shooting and was hooked!
In 1979, Royce packed up his things after a divorce and headed south. He ended up in Queenstown and stopped there. Working with a firm in Washington, D.C., he wanted to be close to the city but still live the country lifestyle. He soon met his current wife, who also had a love of horses, and the two started logging trail miles together, “she’d be riding in her Stübben and me in my 1800s vintage western saddle,” Royce said with a chuckle.

Royce first met Cindy Berkey around 1994 when she was looking for fundraising ideas for TEC. By this point, Royce was also participating and orchestrating several “Wild West” shows and mounted bank robbery skits. Cindy thought a staged train robbery would be a unique fundraiser. Royce called up some friends as well as members of the Maryland Rough Riders and the whole event was set. But on the day of the fundraiser, the train never showed up! “We were all sitting on our horses ready to go in the heat and I just started thinking of what else we could do without the train,” Royce said. Instead, they marched an authentic stagecoach down Greensboro’s main street and acted out a stagecoach robbery. “Well, the sounds of the blanks from our guns and the noise we were making caused people, including the local sheriff, to come running out of the corner restaurant!” he added. All in good fun and with proper permits in place, the crowds seemed to love it!

“We knew this would be a great show to do each year but needed a more controlled environment than Main Street,” Royce explained. Thus, TEC’s Outlaw Days was formed. “Since it was going to be run within a state park, we had to get all the proper clearances but I knew a lot of the [county] players and once we showed them what we wanted to do, everyone got on board.”

Outlaw Days became an annual event with Royce writing the scripts and club members playing the various parts. In-between shows, the club organized various riding demonstrations to teach people about horses. “We had some really big crowds over the years and raised the funds we needed each year… except that one time a hurricane came through,” Royce added. Outlaw Days lasted for 13 years but started to decline as Royce had some health issues come up. “We tried to keep it going but I had to step back and the wheels fell off so to speak,” he said.

Royce would also have a booth set up for the Maryland Horse Council at Outlaw Days. In fact, at every event held at TEC, Royce sets up an MHC booth! “I’ve been involved with the Horse Council for around 16 years and I think that connection between the park and the Horse Council is important,” he explained. “TEC cannot lobby. Neither can the [Maryland] Horse Industry Board. It’s through the Horse Council that the Eastern Shore horse community is heard.”

Over the years, Royce has held several positions within MHC’s executive board and said that his economic professional background has often been helpful. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Royce has been working to crunch numbers to show the economic impact of the horse industry to state officials. “The [MHC] Legislative and Executive Committees sent recommendations to the Governor and we are making progress in getting things opened back up,” he said. “The bottom line is we do things for the public good, that’s why we get things done.”

Celebrating Horses
Outlaw Days was not the only fundraiser TEC ran each year. “We hold a Spring Fling that had to be canceled this year due to COVID-19 and Cindy Berkey Weekend is held in the fall,” Linda stated. “That weekend is huge! We fill the center with campers and hold an auction that does very well too.”

TEC also holds an annual trail ride and auction called “Saddlin’ Up For Breast Cancer.” The benefit ride raises funds for The Red Devils’ Horns of Hope charitable organization. The whole center turns pink for the day with an “All Pinked Out” judged parade.

Most of these fundraisers are geared to people already in love with horses so in order in invite the general public and community back to TEC as they did with Outlaw Days, the club launched the “Celebration of the Horse” four years ago as an anniversary celebration for the club. “Ever since we got it going, it keeps growing and doubles in size each year,” said Al Martinez, who credits his wife, Stacy Frank, as one of the driving forces behind the one-day exhibition.

“We had over 400 spectators in 2019, which was our biggest year so far,” Stacy explained. The day includes a variety of demonstrations as well as food and shopping vendors. “This year we hope we are able to still hold it in October as scheduled,” Stacy said adding, “but with everything going on with the coronavirus we just don’t know yet.”

She did offer a sneak peek at this year’s new additions saying that the club’s youth group, the Hoofpicks, will be running a kids’ area with a variety of activities such as mini lessons on how to groom a pony. TEC is also adding a few more equine rescue organizations to provide demonstrations and lectures.

Martinez & Frank
Al Martinez and Stacy Frank were born and raised in New York, spending the bulk of their lives on Long Island. A love of horses brought them together and after spending over two years searching for the perfect location for their dream farm, they settled on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Stacy was five years old when her grandparents first put her on a pony for a pony ride in a local shopping area. From there, she just could not stop with horses and eventually ended up at the Yorkshire Riding Centre in England where she earned her British Horse Society Assistant Instructor certificate before returning to the United States. She spent a brief time working at the famed DuPont breeding farm in Maryland and taught riding lessons wherever she happened to be living at the time.

Stacy graduated from SUNY Albany with a degree in Biology and worked on Wall Street as a financial advisor for 40 years. She kept horses in her life and dreamed about having her own farm at some point.
Al did not start riding until later in life while in college at Hofstra University. He was introduced to horses through a friend and on his free days would take lessons at a stable on Long Island. “I just got bitten by the bug!” he said. Over the years working as a public accountant, he boarded horses at a variety of stables on Long Island and also had dreams of having his own horse farm some day. “Fortunately, the person I fell in love with had the same dreams!”

While both were working in NYC, they started shopping for land up and down the East Coast. “Stacy wanted to still be driving distance from her family on Long Island so we were looking at Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York mainly,” Al explained. “It took us two and a half years to find just the right place.”

The couple bought the land for their “Country Dream Farm” in 2001 and began planning the layout. “What drew us to this property was that it was right across from a park with a massive trail system,” he said, adding, “It really is a horse lover’s dream. That’s why we are here.”

It was not until 2015 that the couple built on their land and moved to Maryland, but even before the official move, they became involved in the Tuckahoe Equestrian Center. They first joined the club in order to meet other horse people and become active in the local horse community. Once they settled into retired life, their involvement skyrocketed with the goal of maintaining a trails system that is safe for all riders and horses to enjoy.

The Trails
Soon after moving to Maryland, Al began attending MHIB board meetings where he shares new developments at TEC and reports back to the horse community on the Eastern Shore. It was at the April 2019 MHIB meeting that he was introduced to Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder as well as MHIB Executive Director Ross Peddicord. It was at this meeting that Al explained that the trail system at Tuckahoe State Park was failing and many trails had been closed. He was looking for help and advice on how to get the trail system back up to standards.

“It really was luck that I was at that meeting with so many people that could help our trails,” Al stated. According to Al, when he finished speaking, Secretary Bartenfelder told Peddicord to follow up and get it done! “I think they all knew it was a good community cause for our area and the state,” Al added.

Al had presented a plan for the addition of three bridges to help connect trails in marshland areas. What he did not know at the time was that DNR had an approved proposal on file that included eight bridges, the cutting of a new trail to replace the one that had to be closed and other improvements to the trail system.

In addition, it was discovered that there was an old DNR requirement that farmers leasing lands along the edges of the park for crops had to keep a buffer specifically for multi-use trails. “With DNR now enforcing that requirement, we are opening up 30 miles of trails,” Stacy said. “This will bring the total trail system within the park up to 48 miles!” Al added.

Although the full scope of the project is still in the works, many improvements have already happened. “It’s exciting that we’ve been able to get it done after all this time,” Al said, adding, “Tuckahoe should be a destination for people to keep coming back with so many options to explore.”

“It is amazing how well everyone has come together to work on this project,” Stacy added. “And everyone who uses these trails are respectful of each other, from the people pushing kids in strollers to the bike riders and those on horseback.”

Both Stacy and Al sit on TEC’s board and are committed to seeing the future of the club and the park flourish. “I have a few more ideas in my head of things I want to see happen but I’ll just keep those to myself for the moment,” Al said with a smile.

“So many of the volunteers who got this club going are getting too old, like me!” laughed Royce, who added, “but we have this younger group coming in and they have really rejuvenated the organization. It has been great!”