As the U.S. Naval Academy prepares to request proposals for 850 acres of Navy-owned farmland in Gambrills as early as this summer, horse lovers are mobilizing to support a horse park they say would invigorate Maryland's horse industry and be an economic boon for Anne Arundel County.
The newly formed Anne Arundel County Horse Council, or AACHC, has joined with the Citizens in Support of the Horse Park in a push to line up community and political support for the park. Since January, more than 3,000 people have signed a statewide petition to bring the park to Gambrills.
Many in the horse community - which numbers about 2,300 in Anne Arundel County according to the 2002 Maryland Equine Census - have rallied behind the Maryland Horse Park and Agricultural Center and see it as an issue in this year's election.
"Our goal is to educate our political leaders and the public as to what this project would mean," said Vicki O'Hara of the AACHC.
More than 200 people turned out for a forum Wednesday night, at which the organization presented the Maryland Stadium Authority's feasibility study of the horse park.
About a dozen candidates for office voiced their support for the park, prompting applause.
According to the study, released last month, the horse park would cost $114.2 million.
It would generate more than $104 million in annual revenue and attract nearly 800,000 visitors each year, the report said.
The park would include an equestrian museum, visitors center, stables for 840 horses and an indoor climate-controlled show ring with 2,500-seat arena.
Stormwater ponds and fields for horseback lacrosse also have been added to the plan.
Horse lovers, many of whom travel to Washington and Virginia for events, said that having such a facility in Anne Arundel County would keep them in the state for horse-related activities.
"It gives an opportunity for so many people to have a horse experience," said Deanna Umberger, who heads the 4-H Hi-Riders in Linthicum. "From a kid's point of view, this would be like Disney World."
Umberger, who lives in Glen Burnie, said she would move her organization to the horse park, should it go forward.
Others pointed to the economic and environmental aspects of the park as key reasons to support the project.
"It's environmentally sound, it honors the legacy of the horse [industry] in Maryland and it keeps jobs here," said Ginna Gould, who said she spends about $15,000 a year on her horse. "And it's going be a park that everyone can use, and we're just asking for an opportunity to make this a success."
But the park, which would have to be funded by the state and the county, faces several roadblocks.
County Executive Janet S. Owens has said the county can't afford to fund it, prompting Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to pull a bond bill for it this year. Owens also has expressed concern that the park could worsen traffic on Route 3 and could hurt two watersheds that run through the property.
Gambrills residents have expressed similar concerns.
"They are going to add all this horse traffic, and essentially it's going to be for the affluent, it's not for the general person," said Jutta Schmidt, who lives in Gambrills and belongs to the We Care committee, a community group that opposes the horse park.
Others, however, say the park would be an economic shot in the arm for the entire county. Dennis M. Castleman, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the project could create 1,900 jobs and be a tourist magnet - attracting people from all along the East Coast.firstname.lastname@example.org