Work begins on new steeplechase track in Green Creek

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Grading work in progress at the site of the Green Creek Equestrian Center. (photo submitted)If everything else can be done in time, and enough money raised through donations and grants to do it all, then Weicker said the Block House Steeplechase may be held at the new equestrian park as soon as 2011.

Weicker said Tryon Riding & Hunt Club members will be invited out to the new Green Creek Equestrian Park to check it out and view the new steeplechase parking arrangements prior to the event moving to its new location.

Popularity and growth of the event have caused location changes twice before in the event&squo;s 64-year history. Originally started at Harmon Field in 1946, the steeplechase moved to the Block House property in 1947, and then to a new track built just for the event at the then brand new Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in 1988.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Green Creek Equestrian Park&squo;s main feature, however, will be its ability to host AA-rated horse shows, which typically draw upwards of 500 horses.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the national governing body for most equestrian sports in the United States. Governing bodies working under the USEF include: the United States Hunter/Jumper Association (USHJA), the United States Dressage Federation (USDF), and the United States Eventing Association (USEA).

USEF shows with an AA rating are the most prestigious and typically offer the most points and prize money. The USEF keeps track of yearly points, accumulated at individual horse shows throughout the year, and gives awards based on these points at the end of the year. Horse shows governed under the USEF are given an AA, A, B, or C rating.

Under USEF rules, however, show dates cannot conflict with another similarly rated show of the same type on the same date within a 250-mile radius. As a result, &dquo;owning&dquo; a show date is a valuable asset. Weicker said the Green Creek Equestrian Center falls into a radius with prestigious venues like the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Ga. (near Atlanta) and the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.

Nonetheless, Weicker said the Green Creek Equestrian Center has already secured two dates to host AA rated horse shows, and &dquo;we are pursuing several more AA shows,&dquo; Weicker said.

Weicker said the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club horse trials, both the club&squo;s sanctioned event and its schooling event, will continue to be hosted at FENCE.

The land for the new equestrian park in Green Creek was donated to Tryon Riding & Hunt Club last September. Since that time, the club has been hard at work developing a feasibility and business plan, and a site development plan.

The research, site development and business plan were prepared by Weicker, along with Betty Huskins, formerly of Advantage West, Kim Alexander, Dean of Business, Isothermal Community College, and USEF board member and horse show producer Bob Bell.

Draft site development plans for the new park show five permanent barns offering 500 stalls to accommodate AA shows, along with nine riding rings for showing, as well as warm-up and practice. One ring, the Grand Prix Field, will be 300-by-440-feet with stadium seating on three sides.

Weicker said the preliminary business plan for the Green Creek Equestrian Center is to host primarily hunter/jumper and dressage events, but she said consideration also is being given to also hosting &dquo;Western pleasure-type&dquo; events, like barrel racing ‐ using practice rings where the footing will be suitable for the more rough and tumble riding.

To make all this happen will take more money.

&dquo;With the feasibility study virtually complete, we will now actively start seeking grants and continue on with fundraising,&dquo; Weicker said. A committee for fundraising has been formed and is offering naming rights and seeking grants.

Weicker said the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club hopes funds will be found to enable the club to continue steadily developing the land. Permitting is for the first 20 acres of land, which must be seeded and grassed before moving on to the next stage.

&dquo;The goal is to keep going,&dquo; she said.

Best practices are being employed, Weicker said, and new technologies for keeping the site green and neighborly are being investigated. The club is now studying different options for water recycling as well as neighbor friendly light and sound technology.

In addition, the club expects the new park to have a positive economic and environmental impact on the area.

A press release issued Wednesday by the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club (following to end of story) described the club&squo;s view of the economics, based on the feasibility study done:

* * *

&dquo;With the finalizing of the Green Creek Equestrian Park development plan and progress under way at the site, we are excited about the community importance of this project for the sustainable, economic future of our foothills,&dquo; said Chuck Lingerfelt, president of the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club.

The Green Creek Equestrian Park is an example of asset-based economic development that combines the best of both local government leadership and private sector commitment to a community. &bsp;

The Equestrian Park will create a new attraction for visitors to the region while preserving a long-standing cultural tradition.

The economic impact of having an equestrian park has already proven successful for Polk County. Sound economic development policy easily demonstrates that &dquo;growing&dquo; an already established industry cluster in a community is a successful strategy for growth.

Asset and place-based economic development secures a long-range healthy economy with job creation that cannot be shipped offshore. &bsp;

&dquo;Surrounding states have already allocated public funding for new equestrian facilities. If we don&squo;t move now we will be behind the curve and lose market share.&dquo; said Laura Weicker, Executive Director, TR&HC.

The local economic impact will be felt through several sectors of the economy from tourism to medical and from educational to retail, she said. &bsp;

According to the N.C. Study, the total economic impact to NC was $1.9 billion in 2008. Visitors to horse shows, races and similar events spent more than $84 million.

The largest expenditures were on horse supplies, lodging, entry fees, feed and bedding, and transportation.&bsp; Another $34 million was generated through secondary effects. Direct and indirect expenditures generated nearly 1,700 jobs in 2008.

The study also shows opportunities for growth, including production of feed crops, production of other horse-related products, equipment, pharmaceuticals, horse-related programs and education, riding clothes, insurance, capital improvements to barns, fencing, real estate, and planned equestrian communities. &bsp;

The opportunities for growth indirectly are profound. A horse park will increase recreational tourism, thereby increasing the need for hotels, restaurants, gift shops, clothes, and more. &bsp;

Green Creek Equestrian Park will create 100+ immediate construction jobs and several full-time direct new jobs. Approximately $330,000 per year will be spent in contracted services, which will in turn create more new jobs in the area.&bsp; This calculation does not include the increase in jobs in the hospitality industry. &bsp;

The organization estimates an increase in attendance to the new park&squo;s events of at least 10,000 the first year. &bsp;

Using the N.C. Department of Commerce analysis for out-of-state visitor spending, this increase in attendance alone would inject approximately $6,130,000 in the local economy.

The construction of the Park will allow the expansion of services to the equestrian community as well as attract larger shows to the area.

The three area venues provide perfect horse show stepping-stones with smaller shows being held at Harmon Field, medium sized at FENCE and larger events at the new Green Creek facility. &bsp;

The on-going annual show schedule that Tryon Riding & Hunt Club has been providing will continue.

The first phase of development currently under way includes the steeplechase track, creek crossings and a retention pond.