For the second consecutive year, Howard Community College will hold its annual horse-riding competition off-site. The college booted the community event from its highly visible location on the campus grounds last year in favor of adding 535 parking spaces.
The 23rd annual Grand Prix, which is open to the public, will take place Saturday at Marama Farm, a 100-acre spread in Clarksville purchased by longtime supporters George and Marilyn Doetsch just months before college officials went looking for a new venue.
Moving the show-jumping event nine miles away off Route 32 has allowed HCC to eat its cake and have it, too, school officials say. The college has reclaimed land it desperately needed for growth, yet the new home of its annual scholarship fundraiser now offers room for it to expand physically and financially.
And the change didn't happen a moment too soon.
HCC's population has jumped by 10 percent since last year to 9,600 students, and 39 percent of them receive financial assistance. About 1,850 requests for financial aid have been received over the past two years, an increase of 52 percent, according to the college.
That's why the Grand Prix matters more than ever, college officials say, since all the net proceeds go goes to a scholarship fund which, so far, has totaled $2.6 million.
"We've always been affordable and accessible," said Kate Hetherington, HCC president. "But it's a sign of the times that parents who are considering options for their children's education are increasingly looking in their own backyards as financial need increases."
Even with the additional parking lot, built at a cost of $500,000, records show the school's free shuttle transported 461 students and 171 faculty members from the Wilde Lake Village Center to the campus during the first week of classes, which began Aug. 30.
To alleviate the need for off-campus parking, construction started a month ago on a $15 million, 750-space parking garage, which is slated to open in August, said Missy Mattey, HCC's director of development.
The garage, paid for by the county and the state, is being built on the south end of the campus on top of a 160-space lot, so parking was lost in the process, she said.
And in the spring, the college plans to break ground on its $49 million health sciences center, a 105,000-square-foot structure that is scheduled to open in 2013. The three-story building will rise in parking lots located just to the right of the traffic circle near the school's main entrance off Little Patuxent Parkway, she said.
"While it was great to have the Grand Prix here on campus, Marama Farm has proved to be just a spectacular location," Hetherington said. "We either had to move the event somewhere else or eliminate it, since the needs of our students come first."
'Room to grow'
Marilyn Doetsch, co-owner of Marama Farm, said she was thrilled with last year's inaugural event and is now in the thick of preparing for an anticipated crowd of 3,500 to 4,000.
"The farm wasn't, and still isn't, perfection, but last year it was really a work in progress," the Montgomery County native said of the property she has put in the county's agricultural preservation program.
The event, which is sanctioned by the U.S. Equestrian Federation and draws about 50 riders, was also rechristened this year as the Howard Community College Grand Prix — severing its final tie to the Columbia Classic, as it had been known since 1987.
Mattey said she was amazed how readily the Doetsches agreed not only to host the Grand Prix in 2009, but to make Marama Farm its permanent home.
"The thought that the Grand Prix could have been discontinued was sacrilegious," said Doetsch, who owned her first pony at age 5 and grew up around horses, playing at her grandparents' home near Pimlico Race Course.
"I was happy when all the stars aligned for everyone," she said.
Dedicated to thoroughbred breeding and racing, Marama Farm is Doetsch's enterprise. She has 17 horses, and five of her six broodmares are with foal.
"We are willing to open up our farm to anything, and everything, that helps support the college," said Doetsch, whose husband, George, owns the Apple Ford-Lincoln-Mercury car dealership in Columbia. The pair has attended and sponsored the Grand Prix since it began.
Their horses will all be in their stalls on race day, though, and access to their stable will be blocked off for the animals' safety, she said.
"The great thing about holding this event at Marama Farm is that we have room to grow," Mattey said. "I've worked on the Grand Prix since 1999, and it was been basically the same year after year" when it was held on campus.
One big change this year is the addition of a third class to the show-jumping competition, the $2,500 Children's/Adult Amateur Jumper Classic. The other two classes are the $10,000 Junior Amateur Jumper Classic, and the $40,000 Howard Community College Grand Prix.
The kids' corral will also receive a boost in the form of three new features — a pumpkin patch, hayride and straw maze — to go along with the pony rides and moon bounce, Mattey said.
"Everything about the Grand Prix is just a little grander now," Doetsch said.
If you go
The Howard Community College Grand Prix
When: Saturday, Sept. 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. First event starts at 10 a.m., and the Grand Prix takes place at 2 p.m. Boutiques, Kids' Corral and refreshments available all day.
Where: Marama Farm, 5610 Chamblis Drive, Clarksville.
Information: General admission lawn seating is $10 for adults; children 10 and under, free. Bring a blanket or chair. Grandstand seating is $15 for adults, children 10 and under, $8. Box seats, individual seats in the sponsor tent and sponsor tables are available. Call 410-772-4450 or visit hccgrandprix.com for directions and admission and raffle tickets, including for a 2011 Mercedes and other prizes.