Horse-park plans reach milestone
A dedication event Sept. 26 will offer the public a look at the site of the 112-acre Washington State Horse Park at Cle Elum.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington State Horse ParkWhat: 112-acre state park to be operated by a nonprofit foundation to host events in a wide variety of horse-riding disciplines.
Where: Off Interstate 90 just west of Cle Elum.
Sept. 26 dedication: RSVP by Monday at www.washingtonstatehorsepark
.org under "dedication celebration."
More information: 425-486-0272
CLE ELUM — Step through ankle-high pine grass that crunches under your shoe. Veer around a patch of prickly Oregon grape and make your way over to a 4-foot-tall plastic stake with a pink ribbon tied around it.
Then tilt your head to the right to read the words "indoor arena" in black letters on the shiny white stake.
Now comes the hard part: Envision yourself not in a lonesome stand of Ponderosa pine, but in a vibrant center of horse-riding activity expected to draw people from every corner of the state and beyond, accommodate more than a dozen horse-related pursuits and spark an estimated $7.5 million in economic activity each year.
Granted, that calls for a certain creative vision. But vision is something backers of the Washington State Horse Park have in abundance. How else could they have stuck with a project first proposed in 1986?
Washington, home to more than 250,000 horses, ranks 11th nationally in its number of horses and close to the top in horses per capita. But there's no single horse-owners' club or association to argue its case in Olympia, one reason it took as long as it did for the park to become a reality.
"It's been a struggle, but we're getting ready to turn an important page, and people will be able to see this thing is really going forward," said Steve Busick, president of the nonprofit Washington State Horse Park Foundation.
On Sept. 26, backers of the park will hold a groundbreaking and dedication, a chance for the public to see the 112-acre site on the west edge of Cle Elum, just off Interstate 90 about 30 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass.
Site plans show how this strip of sparse forest will eventually hold indoor and outdoor competition and show areas, stables, stock pens, a cross-country course and an RV park. Programs for young riders, through 4-H and other organizations, will be a priority, as will "therapeutic riding" events to help the mentally or physically handicapped.
Land for the park was donated by the nearby Suncadia resort to the city of Cle Elum, which in turn will lease it to the park for $1 a year.
A $3.5 million allocation from the Legislature, approved in 2007, will go toward initial development, including roads, utilities, an RV campground and some structures, such as restrooms and concessions. "We were fortunate we got that in the last biennium and not the current one," Busick said. "The state doesn't have any money now."
To develop and operate the park, the Legislature created the Washington State Horse Park Authority, a public-private partnership now chaired by Todd Trewin of Carnation, a former Olympian competitor in equestrian events.
Leslie Thurston, the park's executive director, said a silver lining in the present economic downturn is that, with contractors hungry for work, bids on some initial projects have come in lower than expected, and the state dollars might go further than first thought.
Even so, completion of this facility — and its successful operation — will depend not on legislators in Olympia, but on the statewide "horse community."
"We'll roll it out in phases as we can afford it." she said.
Thurston said the new park is intended to complement, not compete with, the existing Bridle Trails State Park, which runs along the border between Kirkland and Bellevue. That facility features about 28 miles of trails through 500 acres of woodland, along with uncovered show arenas.
"We're looking for it to improve the whole horse environment and provide more opportunities for everyone," she said.
The diversity of horse-related disciplines practiced in Washington has been both a blessing and a challenge for backers of the new park. It creates a large pool of both potential participants and spectators at park events, Thurston said, but it also requires planners to try to accommodate different uses and needs.
The park will accommodate both Western and English riding styles, each with its own faithful adherents. Western riding, which evolved to meet the needs of American cowboys, generally features a larger saddle developed for the rider's long days. English riding, based in the traditions of European cavalries, has a smaller, flatter saddle allowing the horse freedom of movement.
Jim Briggs, 50, a Cle Elum riding instructor who's been active in the park effort since the mid-1990s, is a loyalist to the English-riding style.
His passion is "eventing," an equestrian triathlon. Often held over three days, it features "dressage," in which horses step, prance and strut with military precision in response to subtle commands from their riders; followed by cross-country riding and finally, show jumping in an arena. "When a horse and rider are going over some of those massive fences at a high rate of speed, there's got to be a serious partnership going on," Briggs said.
Briggs said the escalating costs of land and insurance, combined with the advance of residential development into rural areas, have put a number of horse-riding facilities out of business.
A couple of the Western-style riding disciplines to take place here include reining, in which the rider guides the horse through intricate patterns, and team penning, in which riders on horseback separate marked cattle from a herd and lead them into a pen.
Max Forsgren, of Granite Falls, is looking forward to the park hosting his pursuit, "cowboy mounted shooting," in which riders zip around a field bursting balloons with black-powder blank bursts from their .45's
It will take years, and millions of dollars, for park backers to complete every feature shown on the site plan now inspiring them. Where possible, the park will look for ways to generate revenue, such as renting out its arena for other events, or charging a fee for snowmobilers to use the site in the winter.
"We're constantly turning over every rock we can to find a few dollars," Busick said. "That process will probably never end."
Jack Broom: email@example.com
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