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Southold open space may become trails for horse riders


Horse owners on the North Fork may finally have a place to ride that’s closer to home.

Town Board members are considering whether to finish a series of trails at a Southold property and allow the land to be used by horseback riders.

“It’s like a godsend if we get it,” said Southold resident and horse owner Jill Franke, who lives near the site on North Bayview Road.

The land was purchased 11 years ago as open space, but hasn’t been used since, Ms. Franke said. The Town currently doesn’t have any parks open where horses are allowed to ride the trails.

Supervisor Scott Russell said horse owners in town like Riverhead and further west have places they can ride their horses, like Smith Point or the Pine Barrens.

“They have locations,” Mr. Russell said. “In Southold, they don’t.”

Ms. Franke and neighbor Cindy Hilary first pitched creating the trails in 2005. The town’s public works department had made progress on a set of trails on the property in 2007, but never finished the work. Since then, the open space has been “virtually unusable,” Mr. Russell said.

“The land’s been sitting there and no ones using here,” Ms. Franke said in an interview. “We’re paying taxes out here but what do you get for it?”

Ms. Franke said she’s been riding her horse in Ms. Hilary’s front paddock or along her local roads. But the latter can be dangerous, she said.

“It’s just become such a tourist attraction,” she said. “It’s just not safe to ride your bicycles or your horses on the side of the road.” The nearby horse owners want to keep the trails “low-key,” she said, a place for neighbors to bring their horses without having to travel far.

“We don’t want any cattle trailers down there,” she added.

Several Town Board members expressed support for a proposal to clean up the trails and allow horses on the land, though they had concerns over how to enforce rules at the site.

Under the current trails proposal, the town would limit the number of horses allowed on the property at one time and would prevent events or “active uses” on the site. Parking would also be limited, but Town Board member James Dinizio said he was concerned horse owners from outside of town would bring their horses to the trail.

“We need to have control over that,” Mr. Dinizio said.

Town Board member Jill Doherty proposed a registry of some kind for the horses. Mr. Russell said he believed the horse riding community would be “self-policing.”

“They don’t want to lose that use,” he said.

Despite the support from some on the board, the measure will not be voted on Tuesday night. Instead, Mr. Russell said he will present the idea to the Land Preservation Committee so “at the very least, they have that opportunity to suggest advice.”

The proposal will then go back before the Town Board at its Oct. 20 meeting. Ms. Franke said she was disappointed the trails hadn’t been approved, but was still optimistic the decade-long idea would finally be completed.

“It’s been in the works for 10 years,” she said. “Another couple of weeks isn’t going to kill us.”

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