More horse paths for McHenry County?

WOODSTOCK – Horse riding enthusiasts may get part of what they asked for.

After approaching the McHenry County Conservation District about a year ago, its operations director said some of the McHenry County Horse Club’s requests could be met with two “easy” changes.

The quotes around “easy” were his.

“I put ‘easy’ in quotes because nothing in the district is easy,” Director of Operations John Kremer said at the district’s board meeting Thursday evening.

“There’s typically permitting. There’s different committees it has to run through. Everything takes time, but it seemed they weren’t insurmountable to do. It didn’t have to have a lot a resources, both staff and financial resources, put into them.”

The horse club’s January 2012 letter boiled down to three requests, Kremer said. They would like the district to expand the diversity of paths through different terrains, allow horses on some of the multiuse trails the district already has, and address parking shortcomings.

An additional loop could be added to the trails at Glacial Park by using a road that is used only by district staff, Kremer said.

It would cost about $50 in signs and may actually save the district money, he said. The district could redirect hikers onto the proposed horse trail, and staff would not have to mow the path the hikers currently use.

The new loop also would avoid a road crossing that is a bit of a trouble spot, especially for skittish horses or new riders, Kremer added.

Additional parking space could be created at Rush Creek by clearing out brush on the east side of the parking lot if soil tests indicate that it could handle the traffic.

That would allow small- to mid-sized groups – and all their accompanying rigs – to meet at a park at the same time, something that now is difficult, Kremer said.

There are more changes the district could pursue, including some that already are in the district’s master plans, but these are some the staff could start on this spring.

For example, a horse trail was in the master plan at the Brookdale Conservation Area, but the plan was never implemented because the area practically doubled in size not long after its inception and the district planned to update the master plan.

Staff would not recommend, though, pursuing a south loop in Glacial Park that was proposed by the horse club because it would trek through an area not currently used by people.

Glacial Park also is meant to provide a habitat for animals, birds and plants, Kremer said.

Kremer just needs marching orders from the board on whether to pursue the “easy” options and if they should take the next step in developing some of the more complicated proposals.

“All of this comes down to priorities,” he said. “All of this takes time.”

Vern Scacci, president of the McHenry County Horse Club, thought the recommendations were a good first step and plans on working with the district to make sure not just the “easy” steps are pursued, he said.

“I know we can’t get everything we hope for, but we want to see the trails enhanced,” said Scacci, who lives in an unincorporated area near Woodstock.

The McHenry County Conservation District has just wrapped up a communitywide survey to find out what residents would like to see. Staff plans on presenting the results at the Jan. 17 meeting.

The Citizens Advisory Committee also just submitted a report on outdoor recreational trends that identifies hiking, bird watching and fishing as other common trends.

This information will help the board put priorities on projects, including expanding the district’s horse trails, Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said.

Trustee Matthew Ewertowski also questioned how much some of the proposals would cost.

Some other counties sell bridle tags that riders must have in order to use the trails, Kremer said, adding that he’s also looking into grants.

Scacci pays for bridle tags in two counties, Winnebago and Lake. The difference, though, is that these counties have substantial trail systems that are open year round, he said.

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