Scarborough extends boundaries, clamps down on beach horseback riders

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SCARBOROUGH — Most people would probably agree there’s nothing like the sight of a horse and rider galloping along the beach.

And there’s nothing like the mess they can leave behind.

With that in mind, the Town Council has expanded the boundaries for horseback riders on Pine Point Beach, while cracking down on riders who don’t pick up after their horses.

Beginning this year, the cost of a permit to ride a horse on the beach will rise from $10 to $20 for the seven-month season. But riders will get more for their money: they may travel Pine Point Beach from the mouth of the Scarborough River and continue beyond the town line, through Old Orchard Beach to the Saco line, as long as the Old Orchard Beach Town Council also approves the plan at its Oct. 20 meeting.

Last year, Scarborough issued 199 permits, according to town records; of those, 24 were to Scarborough residents.

Old Orchard Beach issued only four permits last year, according to Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin. But in Old Orchard, a $10 permit is good for only five consecutive days. In addition, McLaughlin said the town requires horses to wear a containment device to catch manure.

If the reciprocal ordinance passes in Old Orchard, permits would be for the entire season, would cost $20 and would allow purchasers to also ride along Pine Point Beach in Scarborough. The two towns would share permit revenues equally. In addition, Old Orchard Beach would no longer require use of containment devices for horses on the beach.

But a last-minute addition to Scarborough’s ordinance has incurred the most praise and criticism. Suggested by Bay Street resident Susan Hamill, the stipulation requires each rider to wear a number, similar to a runner in a race.

In the past, if riders failed to pick up manure from their horses, a caller reporting the incident was only able to identify them by description, making enforcement difficult. With the numbers, which will be issued with the permits, identification becomes much easier, and the town hopes the increased possibility of being reported may make riders think twice before leaving their horses’ mess behind.

Though she enjoys seeing horses on the beach, Hamill said Wednesday that their waste has been a problem “for years.” During a nice weekend in spring, she estimated there could be as many as 100 horses.

“I’ve never seen anyone picking up after their horse,” she said.

She acknowledged it is difficult for riders to stop, dismount, clean up and – with no trash cans on the beach in winter – carry a plastic bag for the rest of their ride.

But the problem with manure on the beach is two-fold: besides being aesthetically displeasing, horse manure on the beach causes an increase in fecal scores, Marine Resource Officer Dave Corbeau said Wednesday. Measured monthly, if scores become elevated, they can cause clam flats to be closed, affecting 35 commercial clammers, off-shore clam dragging and 200 recreational clam diggers, as well as those who make a living shucking clams, he said.

“A lot of horse owners state that what (the horses) eat doesn’t cause the fecal scores to rise,” Corbeau said. “But we’ve done a (Department of Marine Resources) check – horses do (cause scores to rise) and we’ve checked that before just to make sure.”

Riders who violate the ordinance can be fined a minimum of $50 for a first infraction and up to $500 for a third and subsequent infractions. If a rider continues to ignore provisions of the ordinance, the permit can be revoked, Assistant Town Clerk Carrie Noyes said. Though that doesn’t often happen, she said last year one woman’s permit was revoked for her continued refusal to clean up after her horse.

Kerry Daly, of Freedom Road, who rides frequently with a group of friends, said she brings plastic grocery bags with her to pick up manure. Saying it’s good exercise to dismount and mount the horse, she said she also uses the time to hunt for sand dollars and shells.

“If that’s the law and it’s too hard to pick up after yourself, then I guess you just shouldn’t be down there,” Daly said.

But with the town’s policy of removing most trash cans on the beach during the winter, many riders, including Margot Hodgkins, of King Street, say there’s just no place to put the heavy, often leaking, bags of waste. While Hodgkins doesn’t have a problem with wearing a number, she said she would like to see the town use some of the permit revenue to provide trash cans.

“I think it’s very easy for people to say ‘pick up after your horse,’ but what are you going to do with it?  she asked. “Are they making it this difficult so we won’t go to the beach?”

Linda Iselborn, of Vesper Street, said she tries to pick up after her horse, but “it has to be done afterward, after you put your horse away.”

“It’s not really possible in a group of horses to stop all the time,” she said. “Clearly it is the horse owner’s responsibility to go back to the beach afterwards.”

Iselborn said she feels wearing a number would single out horseback riders in a way that does not identify dog owners, who must also clean up after their animals.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he couldn’t imagine how the town would enforce numbers on dog owners, since they are not required to have permits.

Hall also said it’s hard to supply trash cans in the winter because the snowbanks left by plows make it difficult to empty the barrels. But he said he would be meeting with Public Works and Community Services employees Thursday afternoon to discuss making more trash cans available on the beach.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or