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State listens to horse owners, drops plans to limit trail access

Horse owners upset with the state’s proposed changes to trail riding on state land got some good news yesterday. State park officials have dropped plans to limit horses to trails wider than 8 feet after receiving objections from dozens of horse owners.

Also gone from the latest proposed rule changes is the requirement that horses stay on hard-packed surfaces and off state land unless it’s posted as open to horses. And riders will not be required to remove horse manure from riding trails but will be expected to make a “reasonable effort” to scatter the manure off the trails.

Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican, has been advocating for the horse community since the state Department of Resources and Economic Development announced in September that it was updating rules governing the use of state parks.

Boutin said yesterday that horse riders, who objected vehemently to the proposed changes, worked with state park officials to rewrite the proposed rule changes released yesterday on the state Division of Parks and Recreation website, nhstateparks.org.

“They have reviewed them and they are pretty well satisfied,” Boutin said. A Barnstead horse owner who led the protest from the horse community could not be reached yesterday.

The proposed rule changes announced in September touched on a variety of activities, from fishing to camping in state parks, but it was the proposed changes to where horses could be ridden – and where they couldn’t – that drew the most attention.

Park officials heard several hours of testimony from horse riders who said the rule changes limiting them to hard-packed trails 8 feet or wider would unfairly restrict their use of state lands.

Torene Tango-Lowy of the state parks division said her office received 212 written comments about the proposed changes to park rules, 190 of which pertained to just the horse rules.

In an email, Tango-Lowy said horse riders will have more access to state lands under the new proposed changes released yesterday.

State park officials will host two public information sessions on the latest proposed rule changes, one Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the DRED office at 172 Pembroke Road, and another Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the New Hampshire Audubon headquarters on Silk Farm Road.

Under the new proposed rule changes, which still need final approval, horses would be allowed on all state lands unless the land was posted as closed to horses or state rules specifically prohibited horses from the area.

Horses would be barred from areas where the public congregates, like picnic areas, playground and campgrounds, and from several state parks.

The parks department is accepting public comment on the latest proposed rule changes until Dec. 18. Comments can be emailed to Leanne.Lavoie@dred.state.nh.us or mailed to DRED, Division of Parks and Recreation, P.O. Box 1856, Concord, N.H. 03302.

Boutin said yesterday that DRED officials have “gone way above and beyond” what they’d normally do to give the public a chance to comment on proposed rule changes.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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