The mega park controversy

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The economic development team of Polk County assembled last week at the WNC Ag Center in Fletcher to register a complaint.

Polk Countys Economic Development Commission is opposing a recommendation of the 2009 N.C. Equine Industry Study, an official state effort to assess the horse industrys economic impact and opportunities for growth. Some of the studys findings are well received, such as increased funding for equine health research, expanding industry marketing efforts and preserving open land.

The study found N.C.s equine industry with 306,000 horses has a total economic impact of $1.9 billion, 90 percent of which stays in the state, employs more than 19,000 people and pays $196 million in local, state and federal taxes. NC ranks within the top ten states with horses.

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However, in the end, the study produced less than satisfactory results, according to EDC vice-chair Libbie Johnson. For one, it did not accurately account for the size and depth of the Polk County equestrian industry. Even worse, the study came out with a recommendation that N.C. should establish a 2,000-stall mega-park.

Not only is a new mega-park not needed, but if built, it might have a devastating effect on all the smaller parks in N.C., like FENCE. What is proposed is even larger than the Kentucky Horse Park, which offers 1,800 stalls.

Polk officials want the state instead to support its outstanding existing facilities across the state such as Blowing Rock, Carolina Horse Park, Latta Plantation and the states own facilities in Raleigh, Williamston and Fletcher. Polk County currently has 500 available stalls for shows and events with an additional 500 stalls in the works, bringing events year round, and over $10 million a year into the local economy from visitors, not to mention all the equine related businesses here. For now, the 2009 Equine Study is only a document on the shelf. Nonetheless, the alarm bells are being rung. JB