Fairfax County Park Authority signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Fairfax4Horses, a group of equestrians with dreams of creating a riding and lessons facility at Laurel Hill Park.
The agreement "sends forth each party's responsibilities" and "solidifies the partnership" between the two groups, said Judy Pederson, a public information office for the Park Authority.
"We expect the equestrian group will work with us in the design and planning phases and building community support," she said. "From their perspective, we'll be sharing information about potential donors and grants and seeking private philanthropic funding for the design and creation of the center."
The 10-year agreement will see the establishment of the center, which will feature two sets of stables and indoor and outdoor riding rings, one set of which will be used as a therapeutic riding program for special needs riders, said Beverly Dickerson, vice president of Fairfax4Horses.
One of the founding members of Fairfax4Horses, riding instructor Marcia House, spoke before the Board of Supervisors about the need for riding and lesson facilities in Fairfax County after Great Falls Horse Center closed.
"We spoke on Sept. 10, 2001, and we all know what happened the next day," House said.
AFTER THE PARK Authority conducted a needs assessment study in 2004, however, it became apparent a growing interest existed in horseback riding lessons and places for horse owners to go on trail rides, Dickerson said. The group began talking with the Park Authority about using some of the 1,300 acres at Laurel Hill Park, specifically the area that used to be the Lorton prison dairy farm, for an equestrian center and riding trails.
"We've been advising the Park Authority about how to use the land, how to build the stables, what types of programs would be best," Dickerson said. "Now that [the MOA] is signed, the county is looking to start some site preparation work soon."
Dickerson said Fairfax4Horses and the Park Authority are hoping to secure some partnerships from local developers who may consider donating time or services to get the park constructed.
The center will be built as funding is available, she said. To help in that aspect, a fund raiser will take place in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Coalition of Equestrian Organizations and the Nokesville Horse Society at Nokesville Park on Sunday, Aug. 13.
"We hope to get the stable and indoor ring done first so we can start giving lessons," Dickerson said.
It is not clear how many acres will be used for the park, Pederson said, because that depends on other projects in the vicinity, like the proposed Cold War Museum and a planned sportsplex.
"It's a timely process," Pederson said of the development of the equestrian center. "Right now, we're hoping to do some work on the infrastructure at Laurel Hill Park. We're going to need to talk about getting roads between all these developments."
House said she's eager to be able to begin offering riding lessons to students in Fairfax County, including the more than 1,000 riders who have had no place to go since the Great Falls Horse Center and another stable, Bay Ridge, closed several years ago.
"I get phone calls all the time from parents looking for some place for their kids to learn to ride," House said. "These are people who do not own their own horses and this is where the demand comes from."
THE LAUREL HILL facility would not only keep horses on hand for lessons but also ones that could be used for trail rides, House explained.
Ideally, she'd like to see lessons available six days per week at Laurel Hill, along with 50 horses and ponies there full-time. "The trails at Laurel Hill will connect into the Cross County Trail, giving trail riders the opportunity to ride from the Loudoun County border all the way to Laurel Hill," she said.
Fairfax County has "a wonderful opportunity here to provide a place for horsemanship activities in spite of increasing development and urbanization," House said.
The mother of three children, Lisa Lease said she currently has to go up to Loudoun County to board her horse, Harley, and find a place for her children to take lessons.
"My 11-year-old daughter is desperate to learn how to ride," said Lease, who is planning to bring her horse to her new home in Lorton once it is completed. "We've looked into places in Fairfax Station or Clifton but there just isn't enough room."
Lease said she's been "pleasantly surprised" to find so many other parents who share her frustration and said the equestrian center in Lorton would solve many of their problems.
"I can't imagine the county could go wrong by building something like this," she said. "We all know more houses aren't necessary. It's such a positive thing for anyone who can get involved and animals have so much to give us."
Other equestrian groups are teaming up with Fairfax4Horses in anticipation of using their trails for riding events.
"It seems we're getting more and more interest lately," said Mary Flowers, a member of the Clifton Horses Society and the equestrian representative on the county's sidewalk and trail committee.
"From time to time, I'd imagine we'd have our clinics there on their trails. The closest facility right now is Frying Pan Park," Flowers said.
Future plans for Fairfax4Horses include working to have other equestrian facilities built, possible expanding the stables at Sully Woodlands and maybe building a third facility in the western part of the county, House said.