In January of this year, WSSC published its proposed revised regulations regarding equestrian trail access (see “Are WSSC’s new fees and rules for trail riders punitive?”) Clearly they were absurd and a backdoor attempt to ban trail riding in the watersheds.

Over 60 people attended the WSSC hearing on Jan. 24, 2013 to protest the proposed regs (click here for excerpts from testimony).

The proposed regs were such an obvious attempt to bar equestrians that six state senators signed a letter dated Feb. 11, 2013, rebuking WSSC and its General Manager, Jerry N. Johnson:

We write today in the strong opposition to the WSSC Proposed Watershed Use Regulations relevant to equestrian use of the trails in the watershed. After considerable review of the regulations, and after reflecting on the findings of the 2012 WSSC Patuxent Reservoirs Buffer Study, we feel that the goal of the regulations as drafted is to eliminate equestrian use of the trails. In addition, they do not protect nor enhance the health and security of the WSSC watershed.

We agree with you that the WSSC’s paramount responsibility is to guarantee that that public has access to safe and clean drinking water. As you are aware, we have been on the record supporting the continued access for equestrians on the various trails in the watershed that they have enjoyed for the past many decades.

However, in 2011 the Montgomery and Prince George’s County governments adopted budget language stating, “Public access that is more restrictive than pre-study policies should be supported by the science and industry best practices.” Referencing the findings of the WSSC’s 2012 study, the equestrian trails were “excellent” and demonstrated “little or no evidence of erosion observed along any portion.” Furthermore, the study concluded that the Access Road, proposed as the alternative route for use, was “potentially dangerous for horses and riders.”

In closing, we respectfully request that the WSSC reject the draft watershed regulations, and cease attempting to limit equestrian access and use of the trails in the WSSC’s watershed. Given that such efforts are not supported by science and industry best practices, we are of the opinion that these regulations are not in the interest of watershed health and vitality. Thank you for your time and consideration of our request.

The letter was signed by the following State Senators:

  • Jim Rosapepe
  • Joseline A. Pefia-Melnyk
  • Roger Manno
  • Barbara Frosh
  • Karen Montgomery
  • Benjamin Barnes

So, did it work? You bet! MHC/TROT’s Ron McNab reports:

The 2013 WSSC regulations for Rocky Gorge and Tridelphia reservoirs have been released and are a major improvement over the draft regulations.

Overall the regulations seem reasonable and riders’ major concerns have been addressed.

Major Successes:
• Horses will continue to use the horse trails and not the access road.
• Horse manure will not have to be removed from the trail, but must be removed from the parking lot and roadways.
• Sixty-five and older can obtain a free annual pass.

A Few Disappointments:
• At $70, Rocky Gorge is an expensive place to ride. However those who ride less frequently can purchase a daily pass online.
• Those who have adjoining properties must pay an annual entrance fee to enter from their property.
• Commercial stables are held responsible to see that their borders purchase and carry permits.
Many thanks to Barbara Sollner-Webb who led the effort to preserve the Rocky Gorge trail. She worked tirelessly, getting petitions, attending meetings and sending out countless emails to keep us energized and involved.

A special thanks to Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Councilperson Mary Lehman who, as elected officials, fought for the interests of their constituents and trail riders everywhere.

Also thanks to WSSC who eventually came around.

TROT with support of the Maryland Horse Council has had three significant successes within the last few weeks.
• Sunday hunting was defeated in Howard County
• Riding was preserved at the Fish & Wildlife, North Track area in Laurel.
• Riding trails were preserved at Rocky Gorge Reservoir.
Rider involvement and support of TROT and the MHC is crucial to preserving our trails.
To read more, click here for an article in The Washington Post.[ITALICS]

No rest for the weary
No time to bask in glory or rest on laurels, as Debby Poole & Barbara Sollner-Webb urge.

From Debby Poole
I think this whole issue with WSSC has bonded us, and opened our eyes to how precious trails are and how easily we can lose them.

While the new proposed regs are a vast improvement, the ban against trail trimming and clearing worries me. For hikers or riders or anyone else, this is dangerous. How often have we had someone walking in front of us who couldn’t hold a branch only to have it fly back and hit us in the face. Or trip over a fallen tree limb. We aren’t talking about trimming the azaleas or newly planted trees, just being able to do normal trail maintenance.

The other is the checking in to see about using the trails. Since I don’t have a barn phone, computer, or a phone that can do both. I don’t have a way to check the website for an update. I’m not sure it would be necessary since most riders are not apt to ride when it could be dangerous for the horse. This is why we fought so hard against using the firebreaks which were dangerous and also caused so much mud and erosion.

The maps have not been published yet so none of us have seen them. I’m biting my nails a bit over that. But I did hear we will be keeping our Kruhm road access and we are supposed to be allowed back on the original bridle trails.

Lastly, every rider needs to pay attention to the requirement to remove droppings from parking lots and paved roads. If we don’t, this will ruin public riding for all of us. This is for me a very, very important message and rule. Riders who trailer anywhere must never leave manure. When non-horse people step in manure, it turns them against us. I will use one example that I see all (and I’m not exaggerating) the time: Schooley Mill Park. This is a wonderful shared facility (all sports, hikers, bird watchers, dog walkers). I never have been to the parking lot when there wasn’t a lot of manure everywhere, even though the park has graciously installed a manure box right there within a few feet. There is no excuse for this.

From Barbara Sollner-Webb
Because that legislation seems contradicted by many of WSSC’s new draft regulations (see below), the sections pertaining to equestrians, boaters and fisherman should now be replaced with the text of the pre-2011 regulations.

Rapidly, a Citizens’ Advisory Committee should be formed (selected by the citizens who testified for EA Engineering’s 2012 hearings) to draft new watershed use regulations for those sections focused on preserving water quality while accommodating compatible public access.

We also advocate that WSSC undertake EA’s strong recommendations to:

1- open riding on the rather flat access road of Triadelphia (as was allowed in earlier decades)
2- assemble a volunteer patrol of equestrians, boaters and walkers, to help monitor the lands; and
3- accept trail advice from the experts at the Prince George’s Soil Conservation District.

It is unacceptable that WSSC put forth new user regulations that seem designed to deter recreational uses that EA deemed non-problematic. Examples of the new draft rules that contradict the above-stated legislation:

1- prohibit “trimming clearing of trees, branches” as it pertains to trail maintenance,
3- ban winter riding, since after many decades the trail remains “excellent,”
4- no longer let riders decide when it is safe to use the trail that is “excellent” and have WSSC decide this daily,
5- leave unclear which trail will be open for riding–the entire previous trail should be reopened (subject to #3 below),
6- start charging new fees for using pre-2011 entrances,
8- again increase the fees for the use permit, when it was doubled less than four years ago,
9- start requiring buyers of yearly use permits to also purchase a daily pass for picnicking,
10- close nearly half the boat ramps (all but one in Howard County), for no apparent reason,
11- shorten the days and hours for boating and fishing,
12- require adults who are kayaking or canoeing to wear a PFD, not just have it in the boat, and
13- close three of the four shore-fishing sites in Howard County, relative to what shown on the 2011 map.

So, trail riders, take a moment to enjoy some victory, but then kick on!


Debby Poole, enjoying in March 2013 the same WSSC trail that she enjoyed on her very first trail ride in fall 1968.

From Debby Poole: Today was a day that touched me more than any others in a long time. Let me explain.
When my family moved from Bethesda in November 1968 at 15 I purchased my very first horse. The first trail ride I ever took was out the back of the farm, through the woods and a field to the end of Kruhm road where I rode on the old original logging trail that leads to the river. Today, March 16, 2013, I was able to do that exact same trail ride with Jenn.
Thank all of you at WSSC, all the elected officials and people that helped make this possible. You have given me, my family, my friends and our community a wonderful gift. I know we still have things to work out, but I have hope for a future where we can share a love for this amazing place.