By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST
A controversy over horses on the beach dominated a public hearing on the Curry County State Parks Master Plan Wednesday night in Brookings.
Kathy Schutt, planning manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said that topic had little to do with the master plan, but she was unable to convince the audience of about 30 to talk about much else.
Most of the complaints came from people living close to Crissey Field State Recreation Site. They were upset about dust and manure on beach trails caused by Sea Horse Trail Rides, a new business on nearby Highway 101.
The conversation actually began with complaints about dog waste on beaches and trails.
Allowing dogs off leashes or leaving animal waste in state parks and beaches is illegal, but Schutt said, Its a challenge to have enough people to enforce it.
Harris Beach State Park Manager Cary Sutter said the fine for leaving pet waste in a park is $77.
Those who enjoy walking their dogs at Crissey Field, however, quickly switched the subject to horse manure.
Its like a stable, said one woman. They dont pick it up.
Schutt said the trail ride business has been granted a temporary permit pending a county zone change.
There are few places for locals to walk with dogs, said another citizen. Most are taken up by tourism. That person wanted the horses out.
Another said horses brought down from McVay Rock, not connected with the riding business, charged his children on the beach and nearly hurt them.
They run you off the beach, said another, and leave manure everywhere.
Schutt said, We can address horse access to sites, but horse use of parks is not in the master plan. Other meetings will look at that.
Her comment didnt even slow the complaints.
They cut a trail for horse access, said the next citizen. Now ATVs go down it. Now theyre on our trail too.
We get the point, said Schutt. You want us to disallow horse use.
A man said he owns the property on the California side of the border with Crissey Field, as well as property on the Oregon side.
He said hes had problems with the horses on his land, and will fence his property to keep them off his dunes.
He favored moving the state welcome center to Crissey Field because it would establish more authority there.
Schutt said the parks department would see what it can do on the border with more boundary signs and education so people will stay on public property.
Another citizen said, Crissey Field is a sensitive area. Why allow horses there?
Schutt said the horses come in through a forested area. The rules on sensitive plants only restrict building in the wetlands.
We worked with them on a trial basis to stay on the trail through the dunes, she said.
Thats why its on a trial basis, said Sutter. He said the permit is good through October.
It should be revoked, said a citizen. Theyre not picking up.
My concern is the beach, said Sutter. They were told to ride on the wet sand beach so the tide would clean it off. Ive walked on the north side trail. I dont find it that offensive, personally.
I will take others into consideration. There have been some problems. Thats why its on a trial basis.
A citizen said horse manure washing into the Winchuck estuary could cause an e-coli problem. He said dogs also pick up the manure, which is full of live worms.
We will take that into account, said Sutter. The site was underutilized for recreation. There is a demand for a horse riding area.
Just because dogs poop on the beach, said one person, its not logical horses be allowed. They could wear bags. Its required in some places.
Schutt said the permit renewal will be at the park managers discretion, and will also be in the county zoning process. She said a public hearing could be held to decide about renewing the permit.
She said citizens could always call the park manager about problems, or write the director of state parks.
Penny Nelson, owner of Sea Horse Trail Rides, was at the meeting, but Friday said she didnt speak up because she was shocked by the public reaction and didnt want to get in a shouting match.
I was stunned, she said. I had heard nothing but positive comments on my business. I was literally shocked. I was just heartsick last night.
She said she thanked Sutter for telling the truth about what he had seen at Crissey Field.
She said those at the meeting were the only ones complaining. She said the motels are happy with her business, and people in nearby cabins see the horses and want to know where to rent them.
They want the beach to themselves to run their dogs, she said of her detractors.
Unlike the dog owners, she said, she and her staff patrol the trail continually and pick up manure, even if it is from other horses. Nelson has nine horses and offers four trial rides a day, with three on Sunday.
She said she wants to find a compromise with her neighbors, even if that means moving to different trails, or not holding rides in the evening when people walk their dogs. She would even be willing to look into the bag idea.
She said many of her customers are from the Rogue Valley. They come to ride on the beach and spend money in Brookings restaurants and motels.
Nelson said she has complied with all the conditions of her permit, including liability insurance, staying on trails and picking up manure. She was also asked to report dogs off leashes to the parks department. She thought that might have fueled the conflict.
She said it is not legal to allow a dog off a leash on park property. She said being predators, dogs naturally like to chase horses, which could harm her customers.
Her head guide, Margi Wheatley, said she sees two to five dogs off the leash on each tour.
If were complying, said Nelson, they should comply with the leash law.
She said she is a dog-lover herself and currently owns two. She acknowledges that horses and dogs dont always mix, but feels a compromise is possible.
If that doesnt work, she said, the Crescent City Chamber of Commerce has asked her to do a redwood trail ride there.
Theyve definitely embraced us, she said.
Nelson said she is a fifth-generation Oregonian from Medford, and would rather stay in Oregon.
Why does somebody have to lose? she said. What ever happened to compromise?
She said horse manure is just water and grass. Its organic. Dog stuff is not environmentally friendly.
She said most of the manure is dropped at the start of the trail, where it is easy to pick up. She said horses rarely urinate while out walking on trails. She admitted the manure makes the sand a bit dustier, but said there are plenty of other ways to access the beach for those who object.
Nelson said most of the transients have moved out of Crissey Field since she started her trail rides. She said she had about 200 riders in July.
She said it might just be easier for the parks department to deny a permanent permit. She hoped that wouldnt be the basis for the decision.
Its just a shame, she said of the controversy. Its a nice little business.