Brave New Mex­ico’s High-Alti­tude Trails

Eques­trian trails on pri­vate prop­erty are in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing. Con­cerned rid­ers need to or­ga­nize to pro­tect their en­dan­gered trails — the sooner, the bet­ter!

Trail Rider - - FRONT PAGE - BY DOT MOYER

CCreat­ing a trail or­ga­ni­za­tion is a great start to fo­cus ef­forts, in­cen­tivize vol­un­teers, cre­ate en­thu­si­asm, and pro­duce a tan­gi­ble re­sult. Here, I’ll dis­cuss three suc­cess­ful trail-or­ga­ni­za­tion mod­els for trails on pri­vate prop­erty. Then I’ll out­line six key is­sues to ad­dress early as you de­velop your trail or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Trail-Or­ga­ni­za­tion Mod­els

In my area of the Carolina foothills, three main mod­els of trail or­ga­ni­za­tions have been suc­cess­ful. Here’s a run­down of each one. • A loose net­work. Formed by agree­ment among neigh­bors to use and main­tain the area trails, a loose net­work works best when there’s low us­age and den­sity, and good re­la­tion­ships among landown­ers of sim­i­lar in­ter­ests. Ad­van­tages: No for­mal le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion is nec­es­sary. Lim­ited par­tic­i­pa­tion in trail up­keep and no mem­ber­ship reg­u­la­tion re­quires lit­tle work. Dis­ad­van­tages: Trails are eas­ily de­stroyed by ir­re­spon­si­ble users or de­vel­op­ment. A loose or­ga­ni­za­tion can make trail main­te­nance, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, le­gal pro­tec­tion, and ac­count­abil­ity a prob­lem. There’s no rev­enue to cover costs. • Landowner-only. Or­ga­nized through home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions or neigh­bor­hoods, the landowner-only model is of­ten used in eques­trian de­vel­op­ments and wher­ever there’s a high con­cen­tra­tion of eques­trian landown­ers. Ad­van­tages: More clearly de­fined “mem­ber­ship” fa­cil­i­tates com­mu­ni­ca­tion, us­age rules, ac­count­abil­ity, trail main­te­nance, and le­gal li­a­bil­ity is­sues. Trails can be per­ma­nently pro­tected by de­vel­op­ment deed restriction and covenants. Dis­ad­van­tages: Of­ten, very lim­ited rid­ing po­ten­tial. Work and ex­pense for main­te­nance is con­cen­trated on a small num­ber of users. There’s a slower turnover, so vol­un­teers may age out or burn out. “If I can’t use your trails, you can’t use mine” re­tal­i­a­tion may pre­vent mem­bers from us­ing trails out­side of the de­fined area. • Open-use. The open-use model is open to non-landown­ers, with mem­ber­ship. Of­ten, this model is a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion in ar­eas with a long eques­trian his­tory. Ad­van­tages: More avail­able vol­un­teers for or­ga­ni­za­tional func­tions. Greater us­age rev­enue gen­er­ates in­come to pay main­te­nance, in­surance, and other ex­penses, creat­ing greater landowner sat­is­fac­tion with eques­trian use. The trail sys­tem may be­come a valu­able com­mu­nity as­set, in­creas­ing land val­ues. Landown­ers are more likely to qual­ify for Recre­ational Use Statute le­gal pro­tec­tion. Dis­ad­van­tages: Re­quires greater or­ga­ni­za­tion to es­tab­lish and ad­min­is­ter. Need to limit num­bers to sus­tain­able lev­els by quota or res­i­dency re­stric­tions.

6 Key Is­sues

Here are six key is­sues to ad­dress early as you de­velop your trail or­ga­ni­za­tion. • Le­gal li­a­bil­ity. This is the big­gest con­cern for landown­ers. Prop­erly drawn and ex­e­cuted li­a­bil­ity re­lease/in­dem­ni­fi­ca­tion agree­ments pro­tect­ing the landown­ers de­liv­ered by ev­ery user are ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. Recre­ational Use Statutes in ev­ery state lower the landown­ers’ duty and pro­vide the best statu­tory li­a­bil­ity pro­tec­tion to landown­ers who per­mit un­com­pen­sated recre­ational use. But le­gal prece­dent has re­quired “pub­lic use” ac­cess to achieve this level of pro­tec­tion. Eques­trian Ac­tiv­ity Statutes in ev­ery state de­fine what’s “not neg­li­gence,” but they don’t change the or­di­nary neg­li­gence stan­dard and re­quire strict ad­her­ence to statu­tory re­quire­ments. Li­a­bil­ity laws are dif­fer­ent in ev­ery state. Check with your state’s horse coun­cil for EAS re­quire­ments and equine-at­tor­ney re­fer­rals.

• Hel­mets. One bad ac­ci­dent can spook landown­ers and lose trails, so preven­tion is the best de­fense against li­a­bil­ity. Rid­ing on pri­vate prop­erty is a priv­i­lege, not a right. Re­quir­ing ASTM ap­proved/SEI-cer­ti­fied hel­mets will lower landowner risk. • Re­spect­ful us­age. “En­ti­tled” at­ti­tudes and in­con­sid­er­ate us­age lose trust and trails. Landown­ers have rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions that they and their prop­erty will be treated with re­spect (e.g., po­lite, re­spect­ful rid­ers; hel­mets re­quired; no loose dogs, smok­ing, lit­ter­ing, or drink­ing, etc.). Rules and con­se­quences must be clear, and rid­ers held ac­count­able. Mem­bers mustn’t ask for “spe­cial ex­emp­tions” to the rules, as this can in­crease landowner li­a­bil­ity and make en­force­ment dif­fi­cult. • Dues. As­sess dues to cover rea­son­able ex­penses. For li­a­bil­ity rea­sons, dues shouldn’t be tied to the amount of us­age. All users, in­clud­ing landown­ers, should pay dues. • Trail use. Will the trails be eques­tri­anonly or mul­tiuse? It’s re­ally up to the landown­ers how their lands are used, but ad­dress this is­sue early. Be flex­i­ble re­gard­ing noneques­trian use. In my “home” trail sys- tem, our mem­bers only have a right to ride or car­riage drive. Many landown­ers al­low walk­ing, run­ning, and dog walk­ing, but re­strict bik­ing and mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles as too dan­ger­ous. Other sys­tems al­low all users. • Com­mer­cial use. Pri­vate-prop­erty own­ers usu­ally don’t want their trails used to make money for other peo­ple. Com­mer­cial trail rid­ing, short-term rentals, and bed & barns can be a prob­lem be­cause of us­age reg­u­la­tion, landowner con­sid­er­a­tion, and pri­vacy and li­a­bil­ity is­sues.

For more about what you need to cre­ate, main­tain, and sus­tain a suc­cess­ful pri­vate trail sys­tem, you can ac­cess a pre­re­corded we­b­cast, Creat­ing and Main­tain­ing a Pri­vate Trail Sys­tem on the My Horse Univer­sity We­b­cast archive. Go to www.my­horse univer­sity.com/re­sources/we­b­casts. TTR

Based in the Tryon, North Carolina, area, with a life­long in­ter­est in horses, agri­cul­ture, and na­ture, Dot Moyer has rep­re­sented and served on the boards of many com­mu­nity-based non­prof­its dur­ing her ca­reer, in­clud­ing the Foothills Eques­trian Trails As­so­ci­a­tion. Now re­tired, she fo­cuses her ef­forts on pre­serv­ing land and eques­trian ac­cess.

The Equine Land Con­ser­va­tion Re­source is the only na­tional not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­vanc­ing the con­ser­va­tion of land for horse-re­lated ac­tiv­ity. ELCR serves as an in­for­ma­tion re­source and clear­ing­house for land and horse own­ers on is­sues re­lated to equine land con­ser­va­tion, land-use plan­ning, land- stew­ard­ship, best-man­age­ment prac­tices, trails, li­a­bil­ity, and equine eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. For more in­for­ma­tion, call (859) 455-8383, or visit www.elcr.org.

Con­cerned rid­ers need to or­ga­nize to pro­tect their en­dan­gered trails — the sooner, the bet­ter! Creat­ing a trail or­ga­ni­za­tion is a great start to fo­cus ef­forts, in­cen­tivize vol­un­teers, cre­ate en­thu­si­asm, and pro­duce a tan­gi­ble re­sult.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ELCR Will the trails be eques­trian-only or mul­tiuse? It’s re­ally up to the landown­ers how their lands are used, but ad­dress this is­sue early. Be flex­i­ble re­gard­ing noneques­trian use.

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