Committee Discusses Improvements To Trail System

Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee met Wednesday, Jan. 14 to discuss the connectivity of equestrian trails throughout Wellington, specifically regarding the improvements presented last month by Lucido & Associates.

Wellington Projects Manager Mike O’Dell provided a recap about the recommendations and traffic on the trails.

A count was taken of vehicles and horse usage at specific trail intersections to allow for estimations, with the usage reflected in one of the maps presented to the committee. The cameras did not differentiate as to direction, so a horse and rider could pass the camera coming and going and it would count twice, O’Dell explained. Trail use counts were taken over 13 consecutive days at the end of March 2014, he said.

O’Dell then went over the counts on several dozen trails, noting the number of horses, four-wheelers and two-wheelers on each. For example, at the Pierson and South Shore camera, there were 590 horses recorded, 1,523 four-wheelers and 211 two-wheelers. Trail 25 logged the most trips at 2,523 horses, 2,803 four-wheelers and 828 two-wheelers. However, there were other trails with very little activity, such as Blue 7 with eight horses, 20 four-wheelers and no two-wheelers.

The trail surfaces include 30.34 miles on asphalt and 27.66 miles on shell rock within the Equestrian Preserve Area.

O’Dell noted that improvements are needed to the trail system. Specific improvements under examination were to trails between Paddock Park II and Saddle Trail, in Palm Beach Little Ranches, as well as those between South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road.

The committee discussed the safety, as well as options, of crossing major roads in order to connect trails, as well as the feasibility of doing so.

“If we cross at mid-point at any of these roadways, how do we make it safe for a rider to cross a four-lane road into a median? That’s another challenge,” O’Dell said.

“If you’re crossing on the south side of the canal on Forest Hill, as an example,” Committee Chair Linda Elie said, “unless you were to have a signal that would basically stop all traffic… it would be difficult potentially to stop all of that.”

Between traffic on both sides of the road and turn lanes, the logistics might make such a crossing prohibitive and not feasible, she said.

“All of these things are considerations as we move through the process,” O’Dell said. “I’m not sitting here telling you we have got answers to all of this. I’m looking at the map, which is something that we aspire to develop.”

Discussions among the committee included land with Florida Power & Light power lines and a now-defunct golf course at Palm Beach Polo with a street underpass. “There are no easements. You basically would require the cooperation and consent of [Palm Beach Polo owner Glenn] Straub, at this point,” Growth Management Director Bob Basehart said when Elie suggested using the underpass crossing.

Committee Member Michael Whitlow empathized with the desire for connectivity but argued that trail riding does not account for the majority of trail use.

“A lot of what people ride on bridle trails for and on the dirt roads and so forth is not so much for connecting to anywhere; it’s to get their horses off the show grounds and out of their paddocks and out of their stalls,” he said. “Actually having a destination is not all that big a deal for a number of riders. They’re just getting their horses to shake a leg outside of their stall, outside of their little paddocks, outside of the riding ring so they don’t go ring-sour.”

Whitlow urged further development of the system, but stressed that connectivity is not everything.

“I applaud the idea of connecting everything, but I think one of the things that we do have to keep in mind is that people are, like I said, just getting their horses out of their stalls,” he continued. “They’re not unhappy going one direction and coming back at the same spot and going home.”

Maintaining the trails, even if they don’t go anywhere, is where the focus should be placed, Whitlow said.

Elie suggested creating a survey about the trails, which Committee Member Maryjo Shockley supported. The survey, as suggested, would be on the village web site, where the equestrian community could provide feedback and suggestions about trail use.

Committee Member Richard Ellis jumped aboard on the idea, noting that it is important to get a profile of everyone involved with the equestrian community. Publicizing the Wellington trail system was discussed, which the committee decided would be advantageous.