Debate continues on horse center’s proposal for new home
Blue River Horse Center wants to house operation at old county rodeo fairgrounds from May through October
The Blue River Horse Center has raised the $30,000 executive director John Longhill said is necessary to improve the fairgrounds to house the nonprofit’s horses and equine rehabilitation operation and educational programming at the old county fairgrounds. Still, as the county is set to consider whether or not to permit the organization to use the grounds this month, concerns have come in from members of the local community.
Speaking on Saturday, Longhill said the fairgrounds property — which the county manages under a lease from Denver Water — is not ideal. That said, without any other options to house the organization’s summer programming from May to October, he sees it as a “great transition property” until the nonprofit can buy a piece of property at some point in the future.
“The educational programs we have, there’s certainly room for that — there must be, I don’t know, maybe 5-6 acres there, and there is some open space there with trees and vegetation,” Longhill said. “Obviously a lot of work has to be done there, but we just received a check yesterday for $20,000 from an individual donor. And $10,000 is committed from the Summit Foundation once we commit to the location we are going to. So $30,000 is set aside just for the improvements and the move we need to make and what it’s going to require. And the primary thing is good security fencing and on-site security — somebody who is there who can take care of the horses overnight.”
Longhill said he has been told the county commissioners will discuss the proposal to lease the property — owned by Denver Water — to the center at their meeting on Feb. 16. On Saturday, Todd Hartman of Denver Water said they will defer to Summit County regarding the nonprofit’s request.
The county most recently discussed the proposal at a Jan. 19 work session. At that work session, County Manager Scott Vargo said the county’s acting commissioners last year “had come to some sort of conclusion to not pursue this.” He said the horse center resubmitted the proposal with new commissioners Josh Blanchard and Tamara Pogue joining Elisabeth Lawrence.
Lawrence said when the horse center’s proposal was considered last year she and former commissioner Thomas Davidson opposed the proposal while former commissioner Karn Stiegelmaier was for it. At the Jan. 19 meeting Vargo referenced a Change.org petition the center has created, which received over 1,100 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.
Vargo and Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson said the county’s current management agreement with Denver Water does not allow for the kind of overnight and subleasing use the nonprofit is requesting.
Lawrence said she and Davidson’s previous concerns included liability concerns and setting a precedent for what the county would offer nonprofits. Lawrence also said the majority of the letters and feedback she received on the proposal have been against letting the center using the grounds.
Vargo and Henderson said the request the center submitted was for a “much longer-term ask” than the county originally thought.
Blanchard said he recognizes the center’s contribution to the community and doesn’t have the same level of concern as Lawrence. He added he also received several letters, including concerns about the health of the horses at the grounds and the location’s proximity to Interstate 70.
Pogue said the fact that 600 local youth in the “underserved” north end of the county have benefited from horse center’s educational programming should not be ignored while considering the proposal. That said, Pogue added she’s concerned whether the grounds are the appropriate place.
“It’s balancing opportunities for kids in the community with making sure we don’t make decisions that create liability for us in terms of history and availability of animals,” Pogue said.
Pogue said she would like to know more about why the center’s current lease at a 300-acre ranch north of Silverthorne — a location they were at for 12 years — expired, adding the much smaller number of acres at the fairgrounds gave her pause. Lawrence and Henderson also expressed concerns with available water and sanitation on the grounds.
Speaking on Saturday, Longhill said the owners of the previous ranch asked the center to relocate after a boom in demand last summer that saw up to 60 cars at the ranch on a day.
“It was affecting their personal use of the property,” Longhill said.
He said he hasn’t seen any other options outside of a $23 million 450-acre ranch, which is far out of the organization’s price range.
In response to concerns for horse safety and quality of life, he said the center’s emphasis on six months of rehabilitation for the horses to become adopted reflects how the center benefits the neglected, abused equines.
“And at the same time they become part of educational programming — it’s a win-win,” Longhill said.
Addressing the concern about the lack of space on the county grounds, Longhill said 90% of the center’s programming occurred on fewer than 2 acres at the ranch. While they wouldn’t have 100 acres of pasture to graze on like the previous ranch had, Longhill said the horses will be fine on hay or grain for the months before they are adopted. Last summer all 15 horses were adopted. Longhill said the center would use water tanks, like some other equestrian operations do, to provide water for the horses.
— Libby Stanford contributed reporting to this story.
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