A horse of a different color for Jesse Helms Park?

by Josh Whitener

MONROE – Since opening in the mid-2000s, the Jesse Helms Park has attracted soccer players to its acres of fields. But the park could soon be home to a different activity: horseback ­riding.

Union County Parks and Recreation will hold a public workshop Thursday, July 26, to discuss the possible construction of equine trails throughout the park’s passive area. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at the Union County Agricultural Services and Conference Center, located at 3230 Presson Road in Monroe. Community members are invited to come out and ask questions and voice support for or concerns about the addition of these trails.

The county purchased about 230 acres of land behind the Union County Agricultural Center along Summerlin Dairy Road in the early 2000s to be used for a park. The park’s original master plan, designed in 2004, called for equine trails, but a soccer complex was first and foremost on the agenda mainly because there was a shortage of soccer fields in the area at that time. Now that the community has spent the better part of the last decade enjoying the park’s active area, officials are ready to take the next steps.

“We had community input at (the beginning) and (equine trails) were one of those things that the community thought they wanted there,” Bill Whitley, director of Union County Parks and Recreation, said. “Here we are about eight years later and we just want to meet with that community and see what their thoughts are.”

The equine trails would be all-­natural trails where people could come and ride their horses. Whitley said the trails wouldn’t include much open area for horseback riding, as simple trails were what the public originally wanted.

When the original master plan was laid out, it showed about five different construction phases. But Whitley said the past several years have rearranged the schedule and delayed some of the plans.

“We’re really not sure what phase we’re in,” he said. “We’re just doing the phases in conjunction with the moneys available. There’ve been some budget restraints, but as it gets better, we’ll try to take a look at it and reevaluate.”

Whitley said not all of the active area is developed yet and the county is still deciding on how to use the land. The master plan also calls for a homestead area near an old Civil War cemetery on the property. The county hopes to eventually use the area for some education events and opportunities as well, as the funds become available.

“We’re trying to take a look at the different aspects of things we might be able to do, make sure that the community and taxpayers’ dollars are used wisely to get what the community would like us to have,” Whitley said.

He encourages community members to come out to the meeting and give their input, as the county will strongly base its decisions on public opinion. “We’re (developing) the passive area to meet the needs of all of the community. We’ve got to make sure the needs are still there, and we can only get (the trails) if we talk to the community and see if the need is really there.”

For more information or to register for the workshop, call 704-843-3919 or email lindseyfowler@co.union.nc.us.

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