Residents push horse project at fairgrounds

February 17, 1997


Staff Writer

Residents of Washington County and surrounding areas who want part of the Hagerstown Fairgrounds property used as an equestrian center have asked the mayor and City Council to meet with them about their plan.

The group of horse owners and riders, which began forming about a month ago, will meet in the ballroom of the Venice Inn in Hagerstown at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26 to make their case to the city.

Mayor Steven T. Sager, just back from vacation, said Monday he did not know if he'd be able to attend the meeting.


The city is buying the 68.26-acre fairgrounds for $1.35 million, and plans to develop it for recreational use. City officials have approved construction of an ice rink on six acres of the property.

A 20-member committee, working with a list of 120 ideas from residents, is to present a suggested plan of land usage to the mayor and City Council within a few months, Sager said.

Betty M. Smith, of Hagerstown, would like to see horses back at the fairgrounds, which once hosted thoroughbred racing. Although not a horsewoman, she said she has been rallying forces for the cause.

Smith said an equestrian center could host events such as small-scale Western-style rodeos, show horse competition in areas such as dressage and jumping, barrel racing, breeders' sales and Civil War cavalry demonstrations.

Smith said horsemen from as far away as Gettysburg, Pa., and Winchester, Va., have said they would support an equestrian center here. "I expect no less than 200 people at the meeting," she said.

Smith said by the time the group meets, members ought to have a better idea how much acreage they would need to make the center a reality.

Leslie Mills of Hancock, who breeds horses and used to show them, is involved in the Shenandoah Valley Pony Club, which has members from Washington and Frederick counties, Franklin County, Pa., and Berkeley County, W.Va.

She said most local riders now have to go outside Washington County to show their horses, and to find adequate practice facilities for them.

Mills said for a bare bones equestrian center the fairgrounds would need two 250-foot-by-200-foot rings, one of them under cover, blocks of 12-foot-by-12-foot fireproof stalls, and adequate access and parking for the public and the rigs that haul the horses.

Sager said an equestrian center "is one of many, many uses under consideration for the fairgrounds, which will have many uses."

Sager said the fairgrounds committee has a lot to consider.

"They have to figure out what can and can't work. They have to decide what types of uses, for example, would create too much noise for neighbors," he said.

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