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The horse park proposal

June 09, 2005

The news that Washington County is trying to wrangle a site for a proposed state horse park is welcome.

Not only would such a park preserve hundreds of acres of green space, but it would also provide a ready-made market for local farm produce and create a demand for veterinary services.

That said, we have some reservations about the use of the county's Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike for that purpose.

First, some history. When the Great Hagerstown Fair ceased operations at the facility that is now Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park, the agricultural community no longer had a place for its annual events.

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When the county purchased the property that later became Black Rock Golf Course, there was discussion of putting an agricultural center there, but that didn't materialize.

Instead, with a great deal of effort by local elected officials, an agreement was worked out with the University of Maryland for the use of the agricultural experiment station on Md. 65.

A major fundraising effort began and county residents donated $350,000, which the Maryland Board of Public Works matched in 1999. County government chipped in another $500,000.

The center now houses the Rural Heritage Museum and the University of Maryland Extension Office, whose agents work with farmers and homeowners on a variety of projects. In addition, the annual Ag Expo, the successor to the Great Fair, is held there.

The key questions: Would the events the horse park would draw be compatible with these other uses? If not, where would the county relocate the museum, the extension offices and Ag Expo?

The site is the top choice of the Washington County Economic Development Commission and may indeed be the best choice.

But years of planning and fundraising went into finding a place to celebrate the county's agricultural heritage and serve today's farm families. Those who want a home for the horse park need to find another for the present uses if the two won't fit on one site.

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