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Apr. 22, 2019
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Equestrian community behind trail development at Don Carter State Park

By Jane Harrison
 
The rhythmic thud of hooves on soft earth, gentle rocking of the saddle, and view of woods and water from a higher perspective transport horseback riders to tranquility on trails. Recently opened equestrian trails at Don Carter State Park make it easier for local equestrians to embark on that journey on the shores of Lake Lanier.
 
Local equestrians praise the 12½ miles of trails on territory historically known as horse country for their lake views, serpentine courses, bridge crossings, and deep woods. But best of all, they enjoy their proximity to their own barns and pastures. “It’s easy to sneak away to Don Carter to ride for a couple of hours,” said Bobbie Byers, four-year president of the 80-member Chattahoochee Trail Horse Association (CTHA). The Cleveland resident mounts her palomino or chocolate-brown Tennessee Walking Horse on state park trails once or twice a week, weather and work permitting. “I feel very blessed they’re opened,” she said “They’re absolutely beautiful.”
 
David DeLozier agreed. It’s even easier for him to hit the trail from his North Browning Bridge Road property, where the park maintains a neighborhood access for the horseback riders living nearby. He and wife, Dixie, can saddle up their Paso Finos and ride right onto what he calls some of the prettiest trails in the state.
 
“Some are right on the lake, the views are great … I’ve ridden almost every trail in Georgia and I think these are some of the best views. Some are high with long views, others are down close to coves and creeks were we can get water for our horses,” he said.
 
The s-turns, tree canopy, multiple bridges and changing elevations give both horse and rider a fun outing on four main loops with connecting routes. It took “a long time” to get the trails open, DeLozier said, but the wait was worth it.
 
Decades before the park opened in 2013, riders from northern Hall County’s horse country along Clarks Bridge and North Browning Bridge roads hoofed it in “the Glades,” old logging roads and private paths near the lake’s headwaters on the Chattahoochee River.

Then, word came that the private property they rode as public domain was sold to develop a state park. Early on, Byers said, there was no plan for equestrian trails in the woods rich in local horse-riding history. “This was a huge black eye to the horse community that equestrians were left out of the park,” Byers said. “They’d been riding that area for I can’t tell you how long.”
 
CTHA galloped into action, forming a committee to confer with state park planners. The state subsequently drew equestrian trails into the master plan and paid a contractor to cut the trails about three years ago. Bridges were built over creeks and ditches. Signs were made. But, the trails remained closed until last July when CHTA members on horseback, ATVs, and on foot cleared downed trees, raked brush off bridges, and trimmed overgrowth.
 
Park staff and the equestrian club blamed the delay on environmental permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but inquiries to the Corps about what caused the wait were not answered by Lakeside’s deadline. Equestrians also speculated that inconsistency in park management – the park has had at least three managers since it opened – complicated the process.
 
Former managers Cliff Ainsworth and Will Wagner got behind the trail effort, but did not stay long enough to see it through. Current manager Steven Emery, who started last month after previously serving as assistant manager, reported that park staff maintains the trails and recently put in some picnic tables and highland ties for riders to lunch and rest their horses. The Friends of Don Carter State Park, a volunteer organization, also helps out.
 
But, no one has a better feel for the trails than those on horseback. Just as equestrians rallied to get the trails open, they also labor to maintain and improve them. DeLozier said that when he sees a branch or downed tree on the trail, he gets out of the saddle and takes care of it himself. “I ride with a saw and cut up stuff here and there.” He’ll also get off his horse to pick up sticks.
 
CHTA plans a work day March 9 to possibly install a manure bin at the horse trailer parking lot and assess other potential chores. Byers hopes at least 20 ranch hands will show up for work. Nothing will help more than a general drying out after a season of record rainfall. Byers mentioned muddy areas and a trail section that got covered up by high water in December. The four-foot wide bridges got slick due to moisture before horses were even allowed in the park. The regular impact of hooves is roughing them up, making for safer passage, but still some slickness remains.
 
Equestrians’ wants and needs will figure into future development of the trails, said park manager Emery. “I think it will be a huge draw,” he said, one that will increase visitation during the off-season when the park’s main attraction, the beach, gets few visitors.. Lakeside horseback riding is also another option at The Stables at Lanier Islands/Margaritaville.  
 
Seven other Georgia state parks lure equestrians with more trail miles and amenities. For instance, riders can tread 25 miles at Fort Mountain, near Chatsworth, which also offers a stable and guided rides, horses provided. F.D. Roosevelt, in Pine Mountain, has similar perks and 28 miles of trails.

Equestrians take off on 16-mile rides at Cloudland Canyon, near Rising Fawn. Riders spend nights on the trail at Watson Mill Bridge, near Madison, where equestrian campsites are situated on 14 miles of trails.
 
“It would be awesome if we had camping (at Don Carter),” Byers said, adding that equestrians from out of state often inquire where they can camp out with their horses. “There is a need and a desire to have horse camping,” she said. “I’m happy now just to have the day use … it was hard fought.”
 
Horseback Riding Near Lake Lanier

Don Carter State Park
  • Trails: 12 ½ miles through hardwood/pine forest, some overlooking the lake. Trail maps available at Visitor’s Center.
  • Cost: $5 park fee
  • Registration: Show proof of a negative Coggins test for equine infectious anemia at Park Visitor’s Center.
  • Equestrian Trail Work Day: Chattahoochee Horse Trail Association plans a trail work day March 9. See club
  • Facebook page for information.
  • Address: 5000 N. Browning Bridge Rd., Gainesville, Ga.
 
Lanier Islands Resort

The Stables at Lanier Islands/Margaritaville
  • Trails: 2 miles of beginner trails; 12 additional miles for more experienced equestrians with wooded trails, lake views, beach access to swim with horses and open fairways on the former Pine Isle golf course.
  • Cost: Resort gate fee, $20 trailer fee, $10 per horse. Additional costs for lessons, guided trail rides.
  • Other equestrian activities: Horseback riding lessons, guided trail rides, summer horse camps, stables with horses to rent, birthday parties with pony rides.
  • Registration: Enter main gate and follow signs to The Stables. Show proof of negative Coggins test for equine infectiousanemia and pay fees to ride.
  • Address: 7000 Lanier Islands Pkwy., Buford
  • Contact: Equestrian director Beth Pedggai, 470-323-3486.

Posted online 2/1/19
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