Dogs, horses may share park facility

Joining hooves and paws, horse and dog enthusiasts formed an inter-species alliance Thursday, urging the park board to approve a proposed equestrian arena at Battle Point Park.

Mollie Bogardus and other Friends of the Arena at Battle Point Park have lobbied for over five years to secure a public arena for the island’s horse riders.

An arena is included in the park’s 1980 master plan, and park board members have expressed support for the proposal.

“It’s an incredible option deemed important by those who created the park,” Bogardus said. “We would be finishing the job.”

Bogardus welcomed the dog owners’ enthusiastic support.

“We’re in desperate need for a dog training area,” said Mary Hager, a member of Muddy Paws Agility Club of Kitsap County.

Hager said dozens of island residents train their dogs for obstacle course competitions. She stressed that her group doesn’t intend to use the arena as an “off-leash area,” where dogs would run free, and pledged to help maintain the facility.

“People who competitively train are proud of their dogs and proud of their facilities,” she said.

Island dog trainers and horse riders currently rely on private facilities, such as Barnaby Stables, taking turns with allotted time for each group.

Proponents advocated a similar setup for the arena so horses aren’t prancing at the same time dogs are perfecting the fine art of playing dead.

The arena would also be free for users, proponents said.

“It would be open to all who use it, and parents wouldn’t have to cough up money for private facilities,” said horse rider Kathy Countryman.

Even park users without pets would enjoy the arena, said supporter Jenna Gaines.

“People adore seeing horses and they love to see dogs,” she said. “It would bring new, wonderful aspects to the park.”

The proposed open-air arena would likely be tucked in the park’s far southeast corner, forming an oval-shaped field near a pond and a collection of community garden plots.

The park district currently uses the area to dump debris from groundskeeping. Bogardus estimates the facility would be about 100 feet long and 80 feet wide with a wood rail fence surrounding it. The riding surface would likely be sand or ground-up athletic shoes.

FABPP is raising funds to pay for the entire project, from grading to construction.

The group aims to double the $7,000 they’ve raised by January with a grant from the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation and individual donations. With $15,000 in the bank and the park district’s approval, Bogardus said horses could be frolicking in the new arena by next summer.

The parks district would provide general maintenance while users would make necessary repairs and monthly cleanings. Dog owners also pledged to chip in with the arena’s upkeep.

Board member Dave Shorett said the arena would bolster the island’s rural feel and preserve an island tradition.

Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation Director Terry Lande said backers highlighted “compelling reasons” for the district to support their efforts but said he has a few “minor concerns” about the proposal.

Board members are particularly concerned about flooding in the proposed area.

Brian Stahl, a planner with the Kitsap Conservation District, said run-off from Winter Pond may muck up the arena.

“The area floods and gets extremely wet,” he said.

Stahl advocates shifting the arena to a nearby open spot on higher ground. Both Bogardus and Lande said Stahl’s suggestion posed no complications.

Some residents also voiced concerns over the arena. Parks officials received a handfull of calls and emails expressing concerns over odor and traffic.

Bogardus said users would treat and compost horse droppings to tackle possible odor problems. Some dog owners who use Barnaby Stables said a well-maintained facility generates little odor.

Some arena advocates suggested that nearby gardens might make use of the droppings to enrich soil. As for traffic, Bogardus estimates the arena will draw about 40 horse visits a week during the summer. That number would drop significantly during the wet weather months. She said the additional traffic generated would be negligible compared to the number of visits by soccer field users. Many proponents said they’d likely ride their horses to the arena via a trail that links the park to the Grand Forest.

Bogardus also stressed that the arena would not have sound amplification or lighting that may annoy nearby residents.

The parks board is set to vote on the proposed arena Thursday, at a 7 p.m. meeting held at Strawberry Hill Park.

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