Horses still more than recreation in Carson City

Saying they didn't know how it would help, transportation commissioners have put the reins a proposal to define whether horse riding is recreation or transportation.

"I have no clue why we're addressing this policy," Carson City Regional Transportation Commission Chairman Richard Staub told fellow commissioners at a meeting last week.

Traditionally, the city's road department oversees the unpaved shoulders meant to accommodate equestrians in some of Carson City's more rural areas. The parks department handles trails and paths that meander through city land.

The proposal shot down at the Regional Transportation Commission meeting would have officially categorized horse-riding as recreation, so equestrian projects would have been solely the purview of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Local horse lovers, worried that opportunities to ride in Carson City are becoming threatened by development between horse owners' homes and open public lands, claimed the designation would shrink the small number of funding options available for horse-friendly projects.

"We feel this policy would really throw up a roadblock," Beth Scott, head of a local equestrian advocate group called Equestrian Alliance, told the commissioners.

While concerned that the ability to ride horses around the entire outskirts of Carson City, which has existed since the town's inception, may be threatened, the major issue preoccupying equestrian advocates now is how riders will cross the Carson freeway to get to public lands on the west side.

Freeway plans include two overpasses designed to accommodate walkers, bicyclists and horses. But they would also carry cars - a design equestrians say is dangerous and not conducive to a leisurely ride into the hills. A better plan, they say, would be a non-motorized overpass conceived for South Carson City at Valley View Drive.

State and federal officials have told the city a non-motorized overpass to get horses across the freeway would not qualify for transportation funding - a declaration questioned by Carson City Regional Transportation Commissioner Mike Zola.

"I'd like to hear from the feds' side, to see where that's coming from, because I have a real hard time swallowing this," he said.

Zola and members of the equestrian community questioned why horse-related projects might not qualify for transportation funds when bicycles, humans and sometimes even deer do.

Transportation Commissioner Charles DesJardins, a former official with the Federal Highway Administration, said he'd never thought of it before, but it was interesting he hadn't heard talk of equestrian projects at the agency.

"I'm extremely familiar with (overpass) designs for deer and other wildlife," he said. "Never in my 20 years in Washington, never was that brought to us, believe it or not.

"I think we're plowing new ground here."

Members of the local equestrian community left the meeting with the hope that a dirt-and-gravel overpass may one day span the freeway at Valley View Drive.

While city transportation commissioners reminded horse owners that city funds are extremely tight, a Nevada Department of Transportation official at the meeting suggested the city apply for NDOT enhancement funds next year. While it's not covered by the freeway budget, the project may qualify for grant money, he said.

n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.


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