Blue River Horse Center looks for a new home in Summit County
With its lease up at a private ranch, the nonprofit has its eye on the county fairgrounds
The Blue River Horse Center nonprofit is looking for a new home and has its sights set on the old Summit County fairgrounds near the base of the Dillon dam.
John Longhill, the executive director of the Blue River Horse Center, said the organization will resubmit a proposal to the Summit Board of County Commissioners next week to use the county fairgrounds as the base for the center’s experiential educational programs with horses.
Longhill said the center has outgrown its home at a private ranch along the Blue River north of Silverthorne. Last year, he said demand for the center’s activities doubled, with classes ballooning up to 185 from 90 the year prior. Longhill said the organization looked into 15 locations before settling on the old fairgrounds, which have not been used regularly for nearly a decade.
“It’s kind of been abandoned, but it has some nice facilities there,” Longhill said. “It’s got an arena, paddocks, bleachers. It’s got parking. It’s going to take some work to get it up to speed, but it’s almost turnkey for us in terms of an equestrian educational organization like ourselves.”
Longhill described the proposition as a “win-win” for the organization and the county. He previously submitted a proposal to the county late last year but said the county was swamped with coronavirus-related matters. Longhill said he believes the idea would benefit the local community because 15 groups — including Summit School District, Building Hope Summit County and Keystone Science School — take part in the organization’s programming.
Blue River Horse Center board member Craig Robelen said last year’s demand for the horse center is evidence that its programming is beneficial to people during an anxious time. Robelen added that the proposed central location, without the need for transportation to a ranch 30 minutes away near Heeney, would help more people to benefit from the programming.
“Horses are tremendously emotionally refreshing,” Robelen said. “It’s been a great antidote for the COVID situation.”
After the nonprofit’s lease ended at the ranch, Robelen said he talked to 25 area landowners and ranchers without any luck in finding a piece of property. Robelen said it was an official with the town of Silverthorne recreation department who recommended the fairgrounds.
The fairgrounds property is leased to the county by its owner, Denver Water. Since Longhill volunteered more than a decade ago with the now defunct 4-H County Fair, he said the grounds have been used on and off for activities, though it’s mostly been used as a storage location for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It really hasn’t been kept up, kept safe enough for equestrian-type activities,” Longhill said. “But it’s our goal to make it safe again as a usable, educational resource.”
Longhill said the area consists of an arena, some portable bleachers and some old, small buildings. He said the main addition the center would need to operate out of the fairgrounds would be perimeter fencing and overnight security, as 15 horses each summer season — from May through October — would reside there overnight before adoption.
Longhill estimates the improvement work necessary to renovate the grounds would cost $25,000 to $30,000. He said building a new facility on a bare piece of land would cost closer to $100,000. The nonprofit faced a $35,000 budget shortfall early in the pandemic, but Longhill said summer programming helped it return to an “OK” financial situation, meaning it can pay the bills.
Longhill said Denver Water has expressed support for the proposal. He added that former Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier suggested approaching the county with the idea. After the initial proposal was submitted late last year, Longhill said county legal counsel said the grounds’ lease agreement can’t be used for overnight camping.
“But I talked to Denver Water, and they said they just don’t want it to be a public campground,” Longhill said.
Longhill said some other issues the county raised included wanting to use the facility as a safety area to relocate agricultural animals that might be affected by wildfire. Longhill said the organization would “welcome” helping to manage that kind of emergency activity.
Carole Weller, a board member for the organization, said the fairgrounds “is not a perfect” location. Ideally she’d prefer somewhere with some more open pasture, but she said it’s the best option at the moment.
“If anyone does know of any other locations that would be great, we have been looking and just don’t want to end up with nothing,” Weller said.
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