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New FENCE arena to spur Polk economy

The Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) has dedicated&bsp; a new covered arena that&squo;s expected to draw many visitors to the area and boost the local economy.

It appears the state sees the same potential. FENCE announced last week that it received an $85,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for enhancements to the recently completed arena.

The grant will fund a variety of enhancements, including bleacher seating around its periphery and a dedicated sound system.

&dquo;This will make the arena even more attractive for all types of community events, not just equestrian ones,&dquo; said FENCE Executive Director Melissa LeRoy, who added that FENCE was already receiving inquiries from non-equestrian organizations about the arena, as well as several equestrian exhibitors new to FENCE.

The FENCE grant is one of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center&squo;s Innovation Grants, designed to spur business activity, job creation and to further public and private investment in the state&squo;s rural communities.

An estimated 65,000 people visit FENCE each year to participate in nature education activities and equestrian competition, many of them&bsp; staying at local inns and hotels, shopping at local businesses and dining in local restaurants.

The new covered arena is expected to allow for a longer show season at FENCE, new kinds of equestrian disciplines and even family-oriented events that are not equestrian in nature.

The arena was formally dedicated on February 24 after a four-month construction period that began in November of 2007.

The covered arena was constructed over the equestrian center&squo;s Ring C, the largest of the three show rings, located between the show office and the infield barns.

FENCE obtained nearly all the funds for the 30-foot-tall, open-sided structure from private sources after several years of effort.