CAPE ELIZABETH — Local horse riders and members of the Conservation Commission agree there should be room for two-legged and four-legged creatures on town trails.
A meeting last week, followed by a site walk Thursday, are allowing them to consider methods for equine access that do not damage trails used by walkers and joggers.
“We totally understand horses can do some damage and we don’t want to ruin trails,” Shady Oak Farm owner Kelly Strout told commission members John Plainensek, Garvan Donegan and Zach Matzkin, and Town Planner Maureen O’Meara last week.
Strout and Robin Mills, owner of Banbury Hill Farm, live close to the Great Pond and Gull Crest trails, which are part of the town Greenbelt trail system. Both of them board horses, and said they are among 10 or 12 people who enjoy casual rides on the trails.
“People are not trailoring (horses) in to ride Cape Elizabeth, it is too limited,” Strout said.
But the casual rides when conditions are wet have caused damage severe enough for commission members to consider banning horses from trails. A preferable alternative is equestrian-only trails, and O’Meara said she is confident a solution can be reached.
She compared the situation to one where mountain bike riders worked with commission to minimize trail damage and ensure accessibility for all users.
The meeting last week also provided an opportunity for Plainensek, Donegan and Matzkin to learn more about riding and what hazards horses may face on trails.
“I don’t know what stops you guys on a horse,” Plainensek said.
Mills and Strout said wet conditions can be troubling for horses, especially when they step in deep mud. Catching a hoof on roots can cause them to lose a horseshoe or get injured.
Both women said they clean up after the horses as they ride, and they carry shovels and bags to carry out waste from their animals.
Plainenek said he hopes riders will stay off the fields at the Gull Crest area off Spurwink Avenue because of damage to turf and gravel used for drainage.
Mills said the Great Pond trails can be difficult because bridges on the trail cannot support the weight of horses and riders.
Strengthening bridges, including improving one built by a local Boy Scout, is a potentially costly goal, Plainensek warned.
“One bridge could kill our yearly budget,” he warned.
Mills said she is already researching bridge design and possible funding or volunteer resources to help with improvements. One organization she mentioned is the Hollis Center-based Maine Equestrian Trails Alliance, which provides grants to organizations allowing equestrian access on paths.
For the moment, Mills and Strout have asked riders they know are using the Great Pond and Gull Crest Trails to stop.
“All we have to do is tell them to stay off,” Strout said.
O’Meara suggested they expand research into proposals the commission can consider, with bridges being a priority.
“We are ready to partner and see what we can do,” Mills said.