2012-04-06 / Front Page

Cape considers how to make all happy on trails

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

Members of Cape Elizabeth’s Conservation Commission were scheduled to lead a site walk on Gull Crest Field April 5 to address concerns about erosion caused by local equestrians and possibly map out another trail for riders.

The conservation commission met with representatives of the town’s equestrian community on March 29 to discuss options about how horses and pedestrians can share the Green Belt Trail System.

Horse travel on trails through Gull Crest has generated complaints to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara about reported soil erosion and other safety issues, such as trail bridges not equipped to handle horse traffic.

“The main problem is that a lot of our trails are on what I would call fragile soil, very organic soils, that don’t hold up with a lot of traffic,” O’Meara said in an interview after the meeting. “When you’ve got horses on those places it churns (soil) right up.”

Commission member Garvan Donegan said the main goal of Wednesday morning’s meeting was to come to a consensus with the horseback riding community on how to handle trail maintenance.

“We also wanted to look at how we can bring greater value to the trail system as a community,” Donegan said. Robin Mills, owner of Banbury Hill Farm on Old Ocean House Road, boards horses in her stables and rides the trails herself. She said horseback riders want to work with the town on the upkeep of the trails. Mills came prepared with information about Maine Equestrian Trails Alliance Inc., an organization in Hollis that advocates for the construction of bridges that are safe for horses.

Mills said she and other riders try to avoid trail bridges, but are forced to go over them when the trails are muddy. “We can’t go around the Boy Scout Bridge when it’s all mud,” Mills said. “When it’s dry we can go around. We were avoiding (trail bridges) by weaving through the woods.”

O’Meara said it was good that horseback riders were avoiding the bridges, but in doing so riders were also moving off public access trails.

Mills said much of the property riders use off trail belongs to Jodie Jordan of Jordan’s Farm located on Wells Road. “We have permission from Jodie to ride on his property,” Mills said.

O’Meara noted on a map where riders sometimes tread on private property that is not owned by Jordan. Mills said riders also sometimes cross a private lawn on Fenway Road while avoiding muddy trails.

Kelly Strout, owner of Shady Oak Farm on Fowler Road, explained to conservation commission members why muddy trails are not safe for equestrians.

“Mud’s fine, but when in you’re in the woods like that there are roots deep underneath the mud and horses can get caught in the roots, so we don’t risk that,” she said.

Like Mills, Strout said she wants to preserve the trails for all users, but riders still need areas they can utilize.

“We totally understand that horses can do some damage,” Strout said. “If trails need to be closed seasonally that needs to be done too.”

Commission member John Plainensek said the trails and field at Gull Crest was of particular concern to the conservation commission.

“Horses go through there and what used to be grass gets dug up,” he said.

Plainensek said divots kicked up by horses in the field are a safety issue for the middle school and high school cross country runners who use the field for training.

Constructing separate trails for horses was discussed and Plainensek said walking the trails and mapping out an appropriate route for horses is an idea the commission would consider.

“We talked about doing separate, but equal trails,” Plainensek said. “It would be nice for you guys to be separated from dog walkers and to give you some room. We can go out there in the field with you and map out a trail.”

Plainensek said another problem caused by horses on muddy trails and fields is, once the grass gets dug up, it doesn’t always grow back.

“We could encourage less usage when it is really muddy, like in the spring,” he said. Mills said riders usually do not go out when conditions are excessively muddy.

“Not many people from my barn go out, it’s just not fun,” she said.

Mills said she would reach out to the horse riding community in Cape Elizabeth to try and “drum up” the desire to work with town officials to improve trail conditions and possibly construct new horse-only trails.

Lucy Rhodes, a boarder at Banbury Hill Farm, said Cape Elizabeth horseback riders are a tight-knit community who would work together to make riding trails more accessible and safe.

“This has been great to come together,” she said, adding she likes the idea of the town working with local riders to improve conditions rather than imposing restrictions without rider input.

Mills also thinks it is is a good idea for the commission and local riders to walk the trails and map a route for horses.

“(Green Belt trails and Gull Crest) are the only riding we have and there’s nothing else except going in circles in our arenas,” Mills said. “There is some money (in the horse riding community) and definitely the desire (to improve trail conditions). Now is the time.”

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