Plans for the Maryland Horse Park at the Navy Dairy Farm in Gambrills are coming together in a very big way. I was a skeptic at first, wondering why the taxpayers of Maryland should back the bonds to pay for our playground. Now that I have seen the scope of the project and been educated a little about economic development, I truly believe that this thing will work, not just for the Maryland horse industry, but also for the state’s economy. It’s a perfect site and a fantastic design.
To get a vision of the scope of this project, you should start by looking at the site drawing, blowing it up on your computer and imagining the atmosphere of the place. It is at www.maryland- horsepark.com. Gralla Architects did the design, and they are probably the world’s #1 designer of equestrian venues.
There will be 860 permanent stalls, a 2500-seat indoor arena, an attached sales pavilion to rival Keeneland’s, 15 outdoor warm-up and competition arenas, a huge Grand Prix field with stadium seating, a 1-mile turf steeplechase track, a 5/8-mile training track for the Thoroughbred sales, a horse museum, an agriculture education center to honor the history of the Navy Dairy Farm, a tack and a feed store, a great cafe to hang out in, and some of the best cross-country terrain anywhere, with not only gently rolling hills, but also outstanding spectator viewing vistas. The site is 865 acres.
All of it is laid out brilliantly, with thousands of trees planted where you need them, turnout paddocks next to barns, parking tucked into all the right places where it is hardly noticed, and storm water collection ponds that look natural. It is what they call a “green design,” and it takes a piece of land that is now plowed up for crops and fertilized by chicken manure and restores it to grass, trees, water, and permeable parking surfaces. Property values for neighbors will definitely go up.
OK, so it’s fancy – but it’s also expensive. Where will $100 million come from to build this thing? Well, it comes from the people who visit the park to compete and to spectate. Some of it is facility rental, but most of it is taxes generated every time one of these folks sits down at a restaurant, rents a hotel room, or goes on a shopping spree. That’s direct revenue into the state and county treasuries, and according to the state’s own Department of Business and Economic Development, that kind of money will more than pay back the bonds used for development. These guys only support projects that they think will make money for the state, and they are big supporters of the Horse Park.
How can we be sure that the park will attract these lucrative national andinternational competitions? Part of the answer is the quality of the facility, but our ace in the hole is the location. Other venues of this size are in remote areas. Gambrills is surrounded by Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. It is 10 minutes from BWI airport, [the possible site of a future] horse import/export facility, and it is minutes from 9,000 hotel rooms, tons of shopping, golf, and water sports. The location provides a local population of potential spectators, and is a market where companies want to advertise. That opens the door for competition organizers to attract the sponsorship and media coverage that they all so desperately need.
Imagine for a minute what Maryland will become if every household gets peppered with ads about horse events, and if our [mainstream] press starts covering the competitions. Horse sports are great entertainment. In Europe, they are all over the press, and crowds pack the stands at major competitions. Maryland can be that way, and it should be that way. It does our society good to connect to our rural heritage and to nature through horses.
The aspect of the Horse Park that I have not covered – because to me, it is so obvious – is the use that Marylanders can make of it. The Stadium Authority has polled local equestrian organizations extensively, and depends on them to fill the calendar. Pony Club, 4-H, collegiate equestrians, and the as- sociations representing all of our varied horse sports have expressed a desire to use the facility. The next version of the site map will include a network of trails that will be open for public use. This will be “our” Horse Park, as well a destination for outsiders.
Hopefully, you are convinced that this thing is worth fighting for, because we need the help of every horse person in the state to make it happen. In politics, there is always opposition and there is always misinformation. We need to get a bill introduced and passed in the General Assembly to back the bonds to move forward.
They [went] into session in mid- January, and they are done three months later.
The governor wants this and prominent Democrats want it, but this is an election year, and everyone is nervous. They will only support what their constituents demand that they support. They are listening to us.
There is a small but vocal opposition that supports the Navy Dairy Farm’s most recent temporary tenant, a farmer who grows crops organically (chicken manure as a nitrogen source). Unlike their wiser neighbors, who see the Horse Park as the only viable way to protect the land from Pentagon pressure to sell to the highest bidder, these opponents have a way of scaring off local politicians. Again, we need to be vocal in our support.
Here is what you can do:
1. Go to www.annearundel- horses.org or www.mdhorsepark. info and log in to show your support, adding the reasons why you support the proposal and anything you might be able to do to help.
2. Contact your delegates to the Maryland General Assembly and the governor. You can do this through the websites as well.
3. If you live in Anne Arundel County, contact the County Executive and your County Council reps. Annearundelhorses.org has contact information.
4. Print whatever documents you find useful from the websites and take them to some organizations that you are connected with to get them to write letters. Make sure that you get copies to the website contact person. Don’t limit this to horse organizations. Think farmers, environmental- ists, business people, open space advocates.
Every phone-call, e-mail, and meeting has a big impact in this case. Tip the scales our way and let’s make this thing happen.
Let it be known that Maryland is horse country!