A natural gem

Published 2:44 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2019

FENCE to celebrate 35th anniversary this year

If you are yearning to stretch your legs or your mind — you can do both at FENCE, a 384-acre treasure in our own backyard.

FENCE, officially the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center, is open dawn to dusk 365 days a year. FENCE truly offers something for everyone, and thousands of visitors make that turn off Hunting Country Road to start their own adventures. For most, it’s a return trip to take another class or hike another trail…but others are discovering FENCE for their very first time.

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It can become habit-forming, and Tracie Hanson welcomes that.

Tracie has worked at FENCE for 13 years, the last three of those as executive director. She has seen a lot of growth in all areas, including programming and the ensuing increase in visitors.

Tracie is also excited about all of the special activities coming up in 2019 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of FENCE.

A check of the calendar of community activities published regularly in The Tryon Daily Bulletin or the nonprofit’s website will give you an idea of some of the variety of activities taking place at FENCE.

Most programs are free, including an extensive nature education program enjoyed by about 9,000 school kids a year. These programs, led by FENCE nature educators, start with visits at the school campus and then culminate with field trips to FENCE.

Students from throughout Polk County and from Rutherford, Henderson, Buncombe and Spartanburg counties enjoy this chance to learn more about nature and the environment by experiencing it firsthand. The programs are designed to match up with North and South Carolina school curriculum standards. Some of the kids enjoying these school programs end up attending one of the five day-camp sessions held each summer.

Hikers and other nature lovers can roam the over 5 miles of trails that crisscross the property. These trails are separate from several miles of horse trails that are maintained by the Foothills Equestrian Trail Association for its members. There’s room for both on the FENCE property.

People just driving past FENCE can’t help but notice the equestrian side of the property, with professional riding rings, including one that’s covered, and the barns for stabling over 300 horses. It is an impressive facility.

FENCE hosts 23 weekends of horse shows on that side of the property each year, but there’s more! It also hosts dog agility competition weekends as well as a professional rodeo once a year.

On several occasions, FENCE has served as a welcoming haven for horses living in flood-prone areas during hurricanes. The community has come together many times to see to the welfare of these equine visitors.

Cross back over to the “nature” side of Hunting Country Road and follow the long driveway up to the FENCE Center to find the starting point for dozens of activities for all ages. There’s a bird hike each season, led by Simon Thompson or Aaron Steed, that attracts a following of amateur and experienced ornithologists.

FENCE even has their own “Birds of FENCE” pamphlet with a list by season of all birds observed on the property. It’s a great way to introduce a youngster to the concept of a birding life list that nurtures a newfound love of nature around us.

FENCE offers a free family concert 10 times a year, held in the Great Room at the FENCE Center. One month, it might be a solo musician, and the next time, a trio. The intimate setting encourages audience engagement with the performers, who often weave stories around their shows.

There are tree identification, mushrooms and other guided hikes held throughout the year. There are regularly scheduled nighttime astronomy sessions.

And, of course, not a day goes by that people aren’t out hiking the trails on their own or with their canine companions.

Hundreds of visitors make it out for a couple of big events each year — the Celebrate Nature event in the fall and the Go Fly a Kite Day in the spring. Both are free.

TROT, Therapeutic Riding of Tryon, has become a well-known and respected equestrian program using horses to help people with disabilities lead fuller lives. Led by Allison Rhyne, TROT offers two 10-week sessions each year, each culminating in a horse show.

Over 70 human volunteers are involved in the program, and they work with horse volunteers who are trailered in for each session. It’s a big commitment for these volunteers, but the smiles and confidence this program brings is worth it.

A few activities do incur a small fee to cover special expenses, such as “wine and paint” nights or an occasional needle-felting class. The FENCE facilities can also be rented for special events such as weddings and reunions, and that income helps the bottom line.

There are special fundraisers that are fee-based, such as the first-ever Roastin’ on the Ridge oyster roast, held this past November. The annual summer rodeo is another fundraising event, as is the first-ever cyclo-cross endurance bike race and 8K foot race being held Jan. 19 and 20.

Fundraising events, donations from community individuals and businesses, and some grants provide the bulk of the money it takes to run such a first-rate program and to be able to provide such an incredible community resource.

Thirty-five years ago, FENCE was a vision by a group of community enthusiasts, led by James Flack, Paul Culberson, Davis Kirby, Gustav Hoffman and George Moore. Today, a plaque in the Great Hall recognizes their leadership along with dozens of others who made the dream a reality.

They might not have envisioned the success FENCE was to become and is now — a place that means so much to so many.

Plan your visit soon. It’s worth every minute.

FENCE is located at 3381 Hunting Country Road, Tryon. Check the website at FENCE.org for program calendars, phone numbers and contact info. •

Mark Levin has recently retired from a career in education and, along the way, has had a lifetime of experiences, earning a buck as a photographer, videographer, author, musician and camp director. You can follow his blog about people and places in the Foothills at FoothillsFaces.com or on Facebook.