Equestrian Panel Wants Trail Improvements To Focus On Safety

Over three years, Wellington could spend at least $2.8 million on 11 projects to improve its horse trails under a draft plan, though early feedback pushes for a faster gait on adopting more safety signs and fences.

Equestrian Preserve Committee Member Haakon Gangnes asked at the committee’s Wednesday, Sept. 6 meeting with village staff if it might be wise to prioritize safety moves over other goals, such as expanding trails or linking them together.

Gangnes suggested that an initiative to put more signs along key stretches of equestrian paths, for example, should be moved up from the proposed second year of the three-year plan.

“It almost seems like signage would be a cheaper option, easier to implement than re-doing the trails, which is construction and takes time,” Gangnes said.

“That’s a reason we’re meeting today,” said Village Planner Christian Santa-Gonzalez, emphasizing that the point of the hearing was to gather such input. “Maybe that’s something that could be moved to the first year.”

Such discussions reflect the prominent role of equestrian activities in Wellington, where horses loom large in the village’s identity and drive a signature industry.

But as both trails and the village population grow, horses interact on many paths and road crossings with increasing numbers of Wellington’s more than 60,000 residents, creating a busy whir of vehicles, golf carts, bicycles and more.

Committee Member Dr. Kristy Lund said that in many places along the village’s Green Trail, for instance, it can be tough for motorists and others to recognize it is a riding trail at all.

“We’re right next to the road,” she said. “We don’t really have trails. We have grass next to the road.”

That’s the sort of place where signs, and in some cases fencing or hedges, might play a greater role.

The responses signal likely changes to the plan in the next two months. The idea is to hammer out recommendations for the committee to approve at a November meeting and pass along to the Wellington Village Council, which holds final authority.

Mock-up examples of possible signs were displayed at the meeting. One shows an icon for a horse and rider and tries to convey a recommended six feet of lateral distance from other trail users. Others caution motorists to slow down where riding trails come near roadways.

Discussion included possibly putting the signs on wooden posts, or attaching them on existing landscape features, rather than erecting placards with sharp edges on rigid metal poles that could pose hazards of their own.

Since 2016, the village has focused on improvements along six bridle trails, including an updated crosswalk at Greenbriar Blvd. and Ousley Farms Road, better canal crossings and enhanced multi-modal pathways.

The proposed capital plan lays out projects from 2024 to 2027, spread across parts of the village where equestrians are most active.

These include $350,000 for improvements to the village’s Brown Trail, $300,000 for the Flying Cow Road multi-use pathway and $300,000 for installation of fencing along the Pink Trail.

In addition, there would be $150,000 for White Trail improvements, $350,000 for Dark Green Trail enhancements and $250,000 for work on the culvert crossing over the C-8 canal at Rustic Ranches.

Also listed in the draft was $700,000 for a new trail in what is known as Section 34 near the village’s southern end. Committee members questioned whether initial mapping for that project properly navigates around private property, and staff pledged to review that.

Other money would be set aside for water and shelter locations and gathering data on trail traffic. Exact funding for trail and roadway signage remained “to be determined” in a presentation by village staff.

In a slight departure from what is normally a routine procedure, the committee voted not to approve the minutes for its June 7 and June 8 meetings in order to seek a more comprehensive summary of events. In the course of those heavily attended meetings, the board voted 7-0 to recommend that the village reject plans by Wellington Lifestyle Partners to build hundreds of luxury residences, partly on land now in the Equestrian Preserve Area.