‘Kitchen cabinet’ began unique equestrian nature center here 25 years ago

Published 1:34 pm Friday, October 23, 2009

The whole thing began in Jim Flack&squo;s kitchen, where the initial meetings for FENCE&squo;s creation were held. The founders called themselves &dquo;the kitchen cabinet.&dquo;

Perhaps it began just a bit before things got that organized. Kirby and Moore were avid &dquo;outdoorsmen&dquo; and on one of their hikes locally they decided to do everything possible to preserve some of what they were enjoying that day.

Thanks to that day&squo;s hike and the idea it generated, FENCE has now for 25 years been dedicated to the preservation of the natural beauty and ambiance of the foothills area.

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The idea for a combined nature and equestrian center grew after much research into other nature centers. The project was spawned also by the growing need for a permanent steeplechase track for the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club as well as the desire for a permanent show grounds for the many horse disciplines practiced in the foothills area.

To bring the idea to fruition, it took some real backing, and FENCE got that in 1985, when Mrs. Ernst Mahler deeded 117 acres of land to the then one-year-old non-profit organization formed by the &dquo;cabinet.&dquo;

The deed stipulated that all FENCE property was to remain &dquo;green space,&dquo; free of commercial or residential development. The grant said FENCE, &dquo;shall be used exclusively&ellip;in perpetuity as a recreational nature and equestrian area&ellip;&dquo;

All FENCE land is now permanently protected with a conservation easement with the Pacolet Area Conservancy.

The original Mahler land grant is now home to the equestrian facilities of FENCE.

Soon after Mrs. Mahler&squo;s donation, the 80 acres became available where FENCE Center, formerly the Kimberly house, is located. This purchase also was accomplished by Dave Kirby and the rest of the &dquo;kitchen cabinet.&dquo;

FENCE has grown since 1985, through private donations and land purchases, to 394 acres that span North and South Carolina. Added to the original property, to enhance the equestrian facilities, are eight barns with a total 302 permanent stalls, four rings, one covered arena.

In total, FENCE today maintains 24 structures.

In addition to structures, FENCE maintains a seven-furlong steeplechase course and a cross-country course which is presently under redesign by Captain Mark Phillips, the U.S. Equestrian Olympic coach.

FENCE also is part of the Foothills Equestrian Trail Association (FETA) equestrian trail system and offers a trailer parking area for those who need to drive to get to the trail system.

All in all, over 65,000 people attended equestrian events at FENCE in 2007.

For naturalists like the founders, FENCE maintains six miles of trails open to the public and their dogs, free-of-charge, dawn-to-dusk, seven days a week.

The hiking trails offer various terrains and views, a paved trail for the disabled and a walk around and over a 2&rac12;-acre pond. For the adventurous, FENCE hosts the trailhead for the Blue Wall Passage of the Palmetto Trail.

Nature enjoyment and preservation projects have been a part of FENCE for all of its 25 years. Most recently FENCE has teamed with Clemson University to present the South Carolina Master Naturalist Program. FENCE has for years presented free monthly programs for families and individuals who are gardeners, birders, astronomers, music lovers, preservationists and travelers. &bsp;

For children, Project FENCE (Friends Enjoying Nature Chemistry and the Environment) provides in-school and field trip classes on a variety of subjects including birds, fish, reptiles, sound, ponds and streams, senses, habitat, preservation, forestry, science, geology and the earth&squo;s outer space.

School programs are presented weekly, and in 2008 served 8,917 students in six different counties. In the summer FENCE runs seven subject day camps focusing on art, nature, friendly environment, earth, sun, moon and stars, and two horse camps.

An animal and natural science area inside the FENCE Center houses three corn snakes, a bearded dragon, an Iguana, a Fat Tail Lizard, an indoor turtle and frog pond, mice and a rabbit, plus labeled rock and animal exhibits.

FENCE is busy all the time with Boy Scouts doing projects, musicians practicing in the great room, high school track practices and adult meetings held by:&bsp; Pacolet Area Conservancy, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, other government agencies, ten equestrian organizations or private parties and weddings.

To keep everything running smoothly, in 2008, there were 3,604 volunteers who helped with their time, ideas and donations to further FENCE&squo;s goals

&dquo;All of us who work and volunteer at FENCE are so very proud to be celebrating our 25th year of service to the community,&dquo; said executive director Melissa LeRoy.

&dquo;We thank our founders, past and current board members, staff and volunteers for this milestone in the history of FENCE. We look forward to another quarter-century of service as a community &squo;crown jewel&squo; offering programs in nature and science education, outdoor recreation and therapeutic horseback riding for special needs children and adults.&dquo;