Rules could change for fishing and horse riding on state lands
Judy Lessels of Pembroke puts a bridle on her Haflinger draft horse Mischka before taking a cart ride at Concord Equestrian Center on Sunday, September 29, 2013. Lessels says she and Mischka frequent Bear Brook State Park but would no longer be able to do so if the rule changes proposed by DRED take effect. âThey have special places that the trailers can park, and I know of no one who does not clean up after themselves or their horses.â Lessels said.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
Caitlin Conaway (right) of Hopkinton rides her horse Reddee and Sybil Higman of Concord rides Teej on a public trail near Concord Equestrian Center on Sunday, September 29, 2013. The trails near CEC are not DRED property and will not be affected by proposed rule changes.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
The state has proposed several rule changes for state parks and lands that will, among other things, limit fishing hours on state beaches, allow pets on more hiking trails and, most controversially, potentially limit the number of horse-riding trails.
Tomorrow through Oct. 10, the public can comment on the proposed rule changes at a series of public hearings; tomorrow’s hearing will be held at 1 p.m. at the state Department of Resources and Economic Development at 172 Pembroke Road.
Comments will also be accepted by mail until Oct. 24.
There are many items among the nearly 125 proposed rule changes, though many are minor housekeeping revisions. The department hasn’t updated its rules for several years, said spokeswoman Amy Bassett. She is encouraging the public to weigh in.
“That’s why these public hearings are so good,” she said. “They can come voice their opinion, and that feedback goes back into the final (rule) writing.”
So far, horse owners have raised the most concerns, Bassett said. Kelly Normandeau of Concord, Patricia Morris of Center Barnstead and Hannah Howard of Salisbury are among them. They dislike two proposed changes in particular:
∎ Horse owners would be required to clean up manure left on trails as well as manure dropped in parking lots, on beaches and in parks. Bassett said this is already a requirement. She said the department is simply reorganizing its rules to put horse-related rules in one place.
∎ Horses could be ridden only on state-owned trails that were at least 8 feet wide and made of a hardened surface or on smaller trails that were posted open to horses. Currently horses can be ridden on any state-owned trail unless it’s posted as closed. Bassett said this isn’t really a change either, but horse owners vehemently disagree.
Horses could still be ridden on Hampton Beach, from Oct. 1 through April 30.
“You are disenfranchising a large amount of the tax-paying population from using these trails,” Howard said. She said the change would eliminate some of the trails she uses at Bear Brook State Park because they are narrower than 8 feet wide. “Why would you do that? If we don’t have the trails accessible, we will move to a place where it’s friendly to ride.”
Kelly Normandeau, owner of the Concord Equestrian Center in Concord, agrees.
“As citizens of the state of New Hampshire, the trails should be available to everybody,” Normandeau said. “They are trying to limit the use. As a taxpayer, my tax money goes toward keeping these parks open, so I think it discriminatory to try to limit their use.”
Morris, an attorney who practices animal law, said the manure removal requirement on trails is unsafe.
“I have no problem saying we have to clean up the campgrounds, parking lots, play areas and trail heads,” she said. “But if we are on a trail and we are required to dismount at the time (a horse drops manure), it will create a hazard for people on the trail, for other trail riders and for the horses.”
Morris said if a horse is spooked on the trail, it’s much safer to control the horse from atop it, not from the ground. She and other horse owners also noted that horse manure is biodegradable.
Bassett said the rule about horse waste would not require horse riders to pack the manure out, as some horse riders have said. It would instead require horse owners to kick the manure off the trail, she said. But requiring that manure be removed isn’t really a change, Bassett said.
The existing rule governing animal waste reads, “Animal owners shall clean up waste eliminated by their animal or animals from public traffic areas, such as trails and walkways, play areas and fields, campgrounds, and parking lots.”
That rule would still exist, but there would be a second mention of waste removal under a new section just for horses. It would read: “Owners shall clean up all waste eliminated by their horse(s) or other work animal from public traffic areas, including all trails, multiuse trails and walkways, play areas and lawns and fields, campgrounds, beaches, and parking lots on DRED properties.”
Morris and Howard said horse owners and horse-riding groups have always been careful to clean up waste left in more public areas such as parking lots. But they’ve never seen manure removal on the trail required or enforced. “That’s unrealistic and problematic,” Howard said.
The distinction between where horses can and can’t be ridden on state-owned property would be a bigger change, horse owners said.
Currently, horse riders can go on “all road-width, blazed trails unless closed by posting.” Road-width was never defined, so horse owners have gone on all trails regardless of the width, unless there was a sign prohibiting horses.
The proposed rule changes would define a road-width trail as being a minimum of 8 feet wide with a hardened surface. The proposed change would also reverse the current assumption that state-owned trails are open to horses unless otherwise posted. Horse riders could travel more narrow trails only if there was a sign saying the trail allowed horse riding.
Bassett said “the ultimate goal is to post signs” on the many narrower trails used now so that they too are available. She said the state would prefer to post trails as open than notice the trails as closed. “Permitted use signage is used on many DRED lands, multi-use trails, today and has been in use for decades,” Bassett wrote in an email. “Prohibitive signage gets vandalized quickly, is not “inviting” to trail users and is generally not desired.”
The department received so much attention last week about the proposed changes regarding horses that it issued a clarification Friday afternoon, reiterating Bassett’s view that horse riders will retain access to the trails they use now.
“Horseback riding has been permitted on all road-width trails, unless closed by posting, since 2006,” read the statement. “Further, riding has been permitted on trails that are signed for such use. In the proposed rules, DRED seeks to define “road-width trails” as having a minimum width of eight-feet. Horseback riding will continue to be permitted on trails as in the past, including road-width and trails signed for such use.”
Howard, who likes to meet friends from other parts of the state on centrally located state-owned trails, isn’t optimistic those signs would appear. And she disagrees with Bassett’s view that the state isn’t changing her access to trails.
“In this state economy or in any economy, are you going to print up signs for the trails we are allowed to go onto?” she asked.
Other proposed rule changes include the following:
∎ Fishing from state-owned beaches and parks, including Hampton and North Hampton and Jenness beaches as well as Wallis Sands and Odiorne Point state parks, would be prohibited from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Currently, there is no limit on the hours. Bassett said public safety prompted that proposed change; the state was concerned about people fishing during the busiest beach hours.
∎ Animals would be allowed on additional trails at Crawford and Franconia notches.
∎ Alcohol would be prohibited all year at Silver Lake State Park in Hollis. The current rules prohibits alcohol on July 4 and the Saturday and Sunday that follow, although Morris said the state has been disallowing alcohol at that park for the last two years anyway.
∎ Geocaching, a treasure hunting hobby that requires hiding small receptacles containing items on public lands, would also be prohibited on state-owned land without specific permission.
For information about the other proposed rule changes, public hearings or how to submit comments in writing, visit nhstateparks.org and click on “Who we Are.” When the new page loads, click on “Division” and then “Proposed Admin Rules.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)