by Peggy Bree
Maryland needs to develop a comprehensive and coordinated statewide trail system to support the rapid growth of Maryland’s horse industry, the increasing population of pleasure horses, and the increasing popularity of trail riding. Trails are essential to the sports of recreational, competitive, and endurance trail riding as well as foxchasing. In addition, trails are also used to exercise and condition horses for various other activities and competitions including showing, foxchasing, polo, timber racing, three-day eventing, and dressage. All of these sports contribute signifi cantly to the economic health of the Maryland horse industry.
Although Maryland has some of the most extensive trail networks on the East Coast, the state has yet to recognize the potential tourism revenue that can be realized from ancillary services associated with trails. Other mid-Atlantic states are successfully attracting business by off ering extensive trail networks augmented by equestrian campgrounds and facilities, and by eff ectively promoting these tourism opportunities. This is revenue that Maryland is losing.
Current Status of Trails on Public Lands
Development is rapidly consuming trail networks on farms and private lands. At the same time, existing equestrian trails on public lands are rapidly being paved to create urban multi-use trails that are overcrowded with bikers, skaters, joggers, dog walkers and baby carriages, and are no longer safe or appropriate for equestrian use. Environmentalists are excluding equestrians from trails historically used by horses without citing any scientific justification for their decision.
There is currently no statewide focus on creating or preserv- ing equestrian trails. Planning is done at the county level by planners who usually do not have any trail riding experience. In the past, this has resulted in local trails that were unsuitable or unsafe for horses, do not connect to other trail networks, have inadequate facilities, or do not have parking lots that can accommodate horse trailers.
The Maryland Greenways Atlas documented the major trail networks and greenways in the state. Yet developments continue to truncate trails, and the state highway department continues to build road embankments, sediment control areas and bridges that obstruct the movement of wildlife and equestrians traveling along documented greenways. Maryland is on the verge of permanently losing its potential to create a large network of trails on public lands. After property is subdivided and sold to private individuals, it will be prohibitively expensive to reclaim our trails.
Is There Economic Justifi cation to Focus on Equestrian Trails?
States like Florida, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina think so. They off er well mapped public trail systems and charge user fees for public equestrian campgrounds, rent stalls in barns, lease RV pads with full hookups, and sell hay and bedding. Numerous private campgrounds bordering public trail networks provide additional revenue to the local economy, especially in de- pressed rural areas.
There is definitely a need for trails and facilities in Maryland. The 80 stalls at Maryland’s only public equestrian campground (Fair Hill) are booked a year in advance. The League of Maryland Horsemen, a private club adjacent to Patapsco State Park, restricts attendance at its most popular events to 200 campers and draws equestrians from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and the Carolinas.
How Could an Equestrian Trails Advocate Help?
• Identify those Maryland Greenways that contain equestrian trails or should be preserved to connect or expand existing trail networks
• Coordinate with the Department of Transportation to prevent road construction from truncating or obstructing equestrian trails
• Help each county’s recreation department develop a local Equestrian Trail Plan that would complement a statewide plan
• Provide local planners with in- formation on how to develop trails and amenities that are safe and suitable for equestrians
• Provide a liaison to specialists who know how to apply modern technology to equestrian trail design, development, and maintenance, with an emphasis on reducing environmental impact and conflicts with other trail users
• Share information with equestrian groups to help them apply for funding to develop and maintain their trails
• Represent Maryland at the Southeast Equestrian Trails Conference
• Conduct an annual seminar to train volunteers in trail maintenance
• Serve as liaison between government land managers and the equestrian community
• Encourage local equestrian groups to be responsible trail users, and to establish electronic communication with their members.