Tally Ho, Cecil County: New State “Horse Park” Plans to Promote Fair Hill, Tourism

September 4, 2012

Maryland state government is considering investing money, expertise and promotional support to enhance the equine industry and tourism in Cecil County through a new, scaled-down horse park concept that would provide enhanced marketing and promotional campaigns for three locations in the state, including Fair Hill in Cecil County.

But even as state officials outlined preliminary concepts, there were already rifts evident among Cecil County commissioners.

The new proposal, outlined at Tuesday’s commissioners’ worksession and in earlier emails to county officials, comes at a time that the Fair Hill Training Center—home for thoroughbred racehorses such as Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and recent Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags– have brought international recognition to the county and the unique, pastoral quality of Fair Hill. To capitalize upon that newfound recognition could bring substantial economic benefits to the county. (Union Rags is soon to be moved out of the county to Kentucky to stand at stud after the recent announcement of his retirement.)

But the training center for world-class thoroughbred horses is but a small part of the sprawling Fair Hill complex, which features riding trails for amateur equestrians and hosts steeplechase races several times a year on a separate track.

In 2006, Maryland state officials considered creation of a large “horse park” at the state-owned Fair Hill park and natural resources area in northeastern Cecil County, adjacent to the Delaware state line– only to be greeted by adamant local opposition led by a small group of nearby Cecil County homeowners, as well as some pleasure riders in the horse community. The initial proposal included plans for a large horse show arena, parking lots for visitors and related infrastructure.

Eventually, the state picked an Anne Arundel county location—after noting that Cecil County lacked adequate hotel services to serve equine event tourists. But a variety of problems with that other location led to abandonment of the plan and a state silence on the entire horse park issue for several years.

But now, the state Horse Industry Board and the Maryland Stadium Authority are looking to resurrect a scaled-down concept that would spread out money to support equine /tourism activities at several locations around the state, including Cecil County.

Ross Peddicord, who became executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board in early 2011, acknowledged that previous leadership of the board had advanced an ambitious proposal that was not supported by community residents. But now, the board is ready to release a new preliminary study that would re-direct efforts to promote the equine industry in the state into a marketing and promotion approach to draw tourism and business attention to equine facilities that already exist.

Documents and emails submitted to the county outline in very broad terms a new, revised concept for a three-site approach. The state Board is conducting a “Phase 1 Maryland Horse Park Viability Study,” that is now just in an “exploratory” discussion phase.

According to the documents, the “old plan” called for construction of one large $120 million horse park facility. But now, the concept plan calls for smaller-scale support for at least three equine-related facilities that already exist: Fair Hill in Cecil County, the Baltimore County Ag Center, and the Prince Georges County Equestrian Center.

The new plan would “link” those three existing facilities into a “statewide network of sites,” according to an email to county officials sent by Peddicord. The concept would to be to have those three sites work together on equine matters, “like the campus system of the University of Maryland.”

Among the concepts are to promote the existing Prince George’s County facility, which already has a large arena, for new national or international equine events; promote Fair Hill for three-day equine events such as the steeplechase and other events it already hosts; and expanding the Baltimore County ag center for equine education and displays.

“We really need an indoor arena,” said Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). Such a facility would allow events to be held year-round in Cecil County, he said, and could be scaled way down from earlier proposals that were so large the facility could have hosted “rock concerts.” He said any facilities developed under the new proposal should be only for equine events.

But Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) immediately rejected that idea, saying that an “indoor arena was the biggest concern” of area residents who opposed the previous proposal. She said she has discussed the future of Fair Hill with “constituents” who she said felt there must be a “guarantee” that any new proposals “don’t leave a footprint” on the property and would not be “invasive.”

Peddicord didn’t get into the debate and took a conciliatory approach, saying the county can do whatever its leaders agree upon, even if it is just brochures, website and tourism promotion of existing equine facilities and events.

The horse board will seek feedback from the three affected counties and hopes to move forward with the next phase of its studies to develop more detailed plans, Peddicord said.

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5 Responses to Tally Ho, Cecil County: New State “Horse Park” Plans to Promote Fair Hill, Tourism

  1. Bobby G on September 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Didn’t realize how simple things were back in 1990 with only three commissioners.
    Clifton L. Buckworth, President
    Clair E. Carrick, Sr., Member
    Merritt B. Dean, Member

  2. Mike on September 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    This piece reads like a flyer from the local chamber of commerce.

    Omitted in this article and in most horse industry PR, is the fact that the area in question is a Maryland State Park which the Maryland DNR defines as an area “operated primarily for outdoor recreation purposes and open space conservation.” Fair Hill has an additional designation known NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AREA which according to the DNR, provides for “optimal use of the resources on the site, including wildlife management and agriculture. NRMAs do not accommodate intensive recreational uses, and they are typically used for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and water access.”

    The fact that the author and those wanting to wring tourist dollars out of Fair Hill fail to acknowledge this is cause for concern. Perhaps Mr. Peddicord indeed would just like to promote existing equine events at Fair Hill but it would help if it was acknowledged that Fair Hill is first and foremost a State Park that includes many stakeholders who very much like Fair Hill as it is.

  3. Broomless 2014 on September 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    St. Dianna of ARCA rides in to protect her favorite special interest group: The Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)that believe they should control all aspects of development in the county.

  4. Ken Wiggins on September 5, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I personally think a horse park should be a privately funded effort. If it is a good idea, then let the market work. Buy a nice property, build whatever your needs are, market it, and see if anyone comes.

    It is a bad idea to invite a state bureaucracy to spend taxpayers money on a facility to perpetuate an expensive hobby. It is especially bad to erect it on public property already designated as a resource protection area. Can we really afford to waste our public monies on the destruction of our public open spaces? I don’t know how you justify this when we need schools and roads and public safety.

    The horse park advocates sometimes appear to operate in a vacuum. They talk among themselves and proclaim they have included all the “Stakeholders”, operating on an assumption that our parks are at their disposal. I’d like to see acknowledgement of the others in this discussion.

    The Fair Hill training Center is a leased facility whose landlord is the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It is sited on the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, a multi-use facility. It shares the site with the Fair Hill Nature Center, the Cecil County Fair facilities, and miles of hiking, bicycling and horse trails. Boy Scouts and youth groups camp there, and bird watchers, kayakers, and others from the community use this facility for a variety of uses.

    Above all, as its title implies it is a 5600 acre natural resource area, beloved by legions of day users for the purposes outlined above. The original horse park initiative was opposed by those who believed the ambitious project estimated at about 800-1200 acres would diminish greatly the rare gem we have here in our county.

    In the Land Unit Plan devised by the MD Department of Natural Resources, the very first and highest priority listed was Resource Protection. It recommends “limiting new construction and the expanding of existing commercial ventures to areas already developed, such as the fairgrounds, racetrack, and nature center, etc.”

    Before the County puts its stamp of approval on this plan I hope they will consider all the other folks who use the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area. Will there be public hearings on this initiative?

  5. F Gaylord Moody III on September 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

    There is so much irony in this statement by Mr. Wiggins, “…a horse park should be a privately funded effort. If it is a good idea, then let the market work. Buy a nice property, build whatever your needs are, market it, and see if anyone comes.”

    If only the public knew how much time and energy has been spent to prevent development and to put land into restrictive preservation so the market could NOT work, so people could NOT “build whatever.” Thanks to the Cecil County Patriots, the public is just now awakening to see some of the wasteful programs and practices of farmland preservation as practiced by the cronies of Commissioners Mullin and Broomell. It is tragic the government is the only player left to develop a horse park. So much wealth has been taken from land owners; so much capital has evaporated through down zonings that chopped lines of credit which had been collateralized by the value of the land.

    Now that so many capitalists have been devastated by the one-two punch of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy- inspired downzonings and the economic downturn, Mr. Wiggins suggests letting the market work. What irony. What a deceptive comment to put before the complacent general public.

    The Smipkins, Delegate Smiegel, Commissioners Mullin, Dunn and Broomell and their anonymous munchkins toiling as they await their future appointments, stupidly destroy development of infrastructure and the economic base of Cecil County and thereby destroy future tax revenues.

    Yet, Mr. Wiggins proposes spending more money on public works (schools, roads and public safety), as if the goose laying the golden eggs has not been slaughtered. Then, a further audacity, accuses the horsemen of working in a vacuum. If any group has stepped into a bubble where they hear only their own politico babble, it is Smipkins and the land preservationists.

    During the politics of writing the Comprehensive Plan, Mr. Wiggins and his allies won many, if not most, of the procedural skirmishes so the Plan that emerged was a stunning victory of their alliance. Now, their objective to thwart any prayer of economic growth for Cecil has them turning against their own Plan, and turning against the state as the last player standing.

    Mr. Mullin has been defeated. Senator EJ and Delegate Mike are terribly silent as their proteges destroy Cecil County. We must STOP BROOMELL.

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