Happy Trails mean Business


Open space and an integrated trail system may someday become a reality for area equestrian folks and others who share a love of nature. 
The Conservation, Open Space, and Integrated Trails Committee of the Chamber's Equine Steering Committee has been hard at work to develop a trail system that would connect trails in Aiken County and ensure future open space.
Led by chairs, and devoted equestrians, Tracey Turner and Larry Byers, the committee has begun identifying areas that lend themselves to connective trails within the city and county.
"There are more than 50 equestrian communities with deeded equestrian trails in Aiken and Aiken County," said Turner.  "Three of these communities are currently connected.  Meadow Creek Farms, Longleaf Hills, and a future community are connected by the Longleaf Preserve Deeded Equestrian Easement."

The Conservation, Open Space, and Integrated Trails Committee is still in the identifying stage of marking trails on large city and county maps.  "The trails we have marked are used for trail riding, walking, preserves, and conservation easements," said Turner.   "We have also marked public roads where trails may be connected, but we have not approached any land owners at this point."     
One of the challenges the group faces as far as identifying existing trails is connecting the individuals who know the trails for a specific area, and getting them connected with the appropriate stakeholders.
Another challenge on the horizon will be determining impediments and addressing legal/liability issues concerning public access that will arise.
Committee co-chair Larry Byers is familiar with such issues.  Having lived in southern California for 30 years, Byers saw firsthand what can happen when there is no legislation that protects horses and land.  "San Diego County lost all of its equine areas to development," Byers said.
He drove home his point even more.  "Over the decade ending in 2005 the US lost open grazing land at the rate of 4.2 acres per minute!  Basically, enough to meet the forage needs of 1.5 horses is lost every minute - more than 3,000 acres each and every day." Byers said.

He continued.  "In Aiken we are blessed with acreage for horses and with many places to ride, especially in our equestrian communities, however, those places are usually limited to a specific development.  The synergistic capabilities are enormous if we could find a way to link these trail systems together---conceptually we could literally 'ride around Aiken'." 
The work of the Conservation, Open Space and Integrated Trails Committee has drawn the attention of the Aiken Land Conservatory (ALC), formerly the Aiken County Open Land Trust, an organization committed to land conservation in Aiken County since 1991. ALC advises local landowners on the best ways to conserve their lands for generations to come.  The organization also manages over 548 acres of local lands that is owns.
The ALC recently invited members of the integrated trails committee to sit down and discuss mutual conservation opportunities and to determine how each organization could support the other.
"We are all about preserving natural and historic resources through land conservation, so it just seemed like a natural fit," said Mike Hosang, ALC interim executive director and organizer of the meeting.  "We can share our resources with the group and help them in other ways.  At the same time, we could be a vehicle for landowners to help protect and preserve their land, plus the ALC owns property and easements," Hosang said.
"The meeting with the Conservation, Open Space and Integrated Trails Committee went extremely well because we share the same ideas about conservation and open space.  Everyone is excited about this potential collaboration; I look forward to working with the group as we work to protect and preserve our green space," Hosang said. 
Ed Scanlon, manager of Equine Development for the Aiken Chamber, applauded the meeting of the two organizations.  "The Aiken Land Conservancy's expertise in talking to land owners, plus their vast knowledge of acquisition and easement issues, will prove invaluable to our Conservation, Open Space, and Integrated Trails Committee.  It's a win/win situation," Scanlon said.
"Tracey Turner, Larry Byers, and their team are doing a terrific job of mapping the designated trails and open spaces in Aiken County," Scanlon added.  The group will be ready to unveil their findings at the next Aiken Land Conservancy meeting.
"Our goal of equestrian trail planning is to enable accessible, safe, and pleasurable trail riding opportunities with few environmental impacts," said Turner. "Our goal by year's end is to have an Aiken greenway master plan well under way and to help landowners and others understand the importance in preserving trails and in having open space for other recreational opportunities."
Planning ahead for open space and conservation issues is a critical factor for the equine industry and the community at large. It is an important undertaking that will require a partnership between the City of Aiken, Aiken County, private property owners and organizations, such as the Aiken Land Conservancy.
For more information on the Equine Steering Committee's efforts and goals, please contact Ed Scanlon, manager of Equine Development for the Chamber, at escanlon@aikenchamber.net.
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