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A Park is Born

Donated land to become
conservation park in Oldham County;
future horse park still possible

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2002) – Oldham County Fiscal Court approved a motion on Oct. 15 that will allow funding of improvements to a 12-acre parcel that will provide access to a proposed conservation park on Hwy. 524 in northeastern Oldham County.
The motion came after the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Board in July agreed to purchase approximately 230 acres of conservation land that will be owned and managed by Oldham County Fiscal Court.

Horses

Trail riders on Garnett Morgan's farm

Garnett Morgan currently owns both parcels of land. Morgan agreed to donate the 12-acre parcel for county use if the county agreed to fund the improvements, according to Oldham County District 5 Magistrate Duane Murner. Murner and fellow magistrate, Mary Ellen Kinser, worked for more than a year on the project to acquire the conservation land and access parcel.
“Duane and I worked very hard to acquire the property without using tax money,” Kinser said. She and Murner met with state and county officials, solicited letters of support and worked out the details of acquiring the property said Kinser. The land is located in District 3, of which Kinser is magistrate.
Murner said he and Kinser have already secured a grant of $50,000 under the Federal Trails Program that will fund part of the improvements. These will include construction of a road, a parking area and utilities. The county also anticipates future construction of a welcome-education center, paths and signage for the conservation park.
Now that the county has agreed to make improvements, the area can be developed, as funds become available, for public enjoyment such as walking, picnicking and perhaps eventually camping, Murner said.
According to Murner, two separate appraisals and a boundary survey will be needed to complete the deal for the purchase of the 230-acre conservation parcel. In addition, the land conservation board requires that environmental surveys of the area be conducted and a management plan developed.
“There are very strict requirements of what you can and cannot do with conservation land,” said Murner.
The environmental study, conducted by a team of experts from Thomas Moore College, headed by Dr. Bill Bryant, is already under way. Bryant said that he and his associates have made a couple of trips to the area to begin recording the plant and animal species that exist there. The group will also look for archeological remains that may exist, including Native American artifacts and old homesteads. Bryant said that his group has already identified three species of salamander, a couple of frog species, a species of snake and a species of orchid. Once the environmental survey is complete, a management plan will be compiled that will detail access to the area, including areas where access should be limited and areas for trails, Bryant explained.
The acquisition of the 230-acre parcel of land will more than double the number of acres under county protection for parks, which Murner said is currently 186 acres. In addition to the 230 and 12-acre parcels, an adjoining 60-acre parcel has been considered for the development of an equestrian center. Murner said that a horse park was actually the original focus of the project, which later came to include the conservation park.
Murner said a focus on horses, which are a big part of Oldham County’s rural heritage, make sense for tourism and recreational development. “If you look at horse populations in counties throughout the United States, Oldham County is in the top 3 percent,” Murner said.
In order to determine the likelihood of success of a horse park in Oldham County, county officials commissioned a feasibility study by the Equine Business Management School at the University of Louisville. An executive summary of the study states that the feasibility of the project is based on the “potential market for the proposed facility; pro forma financial performance and economic impact of the proposed facility; capital investment of the proposed facility, and management of the proposed facility.”
Several sources of data, including a 2002 survey of 24 equestrian facilities throughout the southeast, personal interviews with expert sources and secondary sources such as industry publications and the Internet, were used in the feasibility analysis.
Murner said that upon completion of the study, the authors, Robert G. Lawrence, Richard D. Morgan and J. Shannon Neibergs, testified before Fiscal Court as to their findings. “Their judgment is that Oldham County can do it, that there’s a market for it… but that we have to do it in the way that they suggest,” said Murner. Those suggestions, according to the study, include building a large, indoor arena that will attract bigger, multi-day events and hiring a skilled manager who is dedicated to success of the facility. Building such a facility would cost around $5 million, said Murner, who doesn’t plan to bring a motion forth until money can be secured for the project.
“Realistically, that may be a way off,” said Murner, who is currently exploring funding for the project through the Phase I Tobacco Program. Murner said that county officials have prepared a trial application for Phase I money that has been forwarded to the Department of Agriculture for review before an official application is submitted. If the application is successful, then plans for the equestrian park can resume.
Until then, the county will move forward with plans for the conservation park, which was basically acquired for the cost of development, said Murner.

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