Horse park dealt setback

Official rejects use of UM farm, saying land in Clarksville needed for research

December 07, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

A University of Maryland, College Park official delivered a major blow this week to hopes of locating a state-sponsored horse park on a 900-acre farm in central Howard County, but members of a citizens task force haven't given up exploring the idea.

Cheng-I Wei, dean of the university's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which operates the Clarksville farm, told the Horse Park Task Force that senior university officials are not interested in turning over or sharing the site for use as a $114 million Maryland Stadium Authority horse park.

Kimberly Flowers, county deputy planning director, and Joy Levy, the county's agricultural preservation specialist, said last month that the university research farm is perhaps the only site in the county that is large enough and potentially available for the horse-center project.

"We use all the land" at the farm, Wei said at a task force meeting Wednesday.

He told task force members that his conversation with university Provost Nariman Farvardin was a brief and casual one, and that they might want to seek more discussions with top university officials on the subject. The Horse Park Task Force is due to meet Tuesday at the farm off Homewood Road to learn more about its operations.

"I believe the horse industry will be important," Wei said at the meeting in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. He said the college plans to begin a horse research program at the farm, which now includes about 90 dairy cattle, corn and soybean fields used to produce food for the livestock and experimental agricultural projects.

Brian Magness, director of development under Wei, earlier told the committee members that a horse park featuring shows, contests and cross-country riding would interfere with research at the farm. The university hopes to build a $12 million to $15 million conference center there intended to be an example of a "green," environmentally friendly building.

The task force was created by the County Council to explore the possibility of Howard competing for the state project when a request for proposals is to go out next summer. A plan to locate the horse park at the Naval Academy's former dairy farm near Gambrills fell apart after Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold opposed it. Several other Maryland counties are considering submitting bids for the project.

"The central research farm is perhaps the only parcel large enough that's not committed," said Dr. Michael Erskine, task force chairman and a large-animal veterinarian.

Erskine said the horse park might need only a small portion of the farm for intense activities, using the rest for trail or cross-country riding.

"There may be an opportunity," he said.

Joan Lewis Kennedy, the Ulman administration's lobbyist and a task force member, said other properties are too small or too expensive, and that the university farm being state owned could be an advantage. Others suggested that leasing portions for a horse park could funnel revenue to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to help pay for other programs that Wei wants.

Task force members then discussed other possibilities, such as finding a smaller 100-acre site adjacent to state or county parkland that could be used for trail riding.

Clara Gouin, a county planner, told the group that there once were plans for a horse park on the southern end of the Alpha Ridge landfill property, but an outdoor police firing range took precedence. A public safety training facility is now located there.

Howie Feaga, a county Farm Bureau member on the task force, suggested asking the Carroll family about using some of its large Doughoregan estate for a horse park, but Flowers said that is unlikely.

Another suggestion was finding a site along the Patuxent River with Howard and Montgomery counties.

"It is a Maryland horse park," Erskine said.

Dr. Fred Lewis, another veterinarian on the task force, suggested drawing up a detailed proposal for university officials "to let them know exactly what we need."

"It does not seem to me the door has been shut," Erskine said after the meeting.

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