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Good Idea, Wrong Place: Equestrian Center Should Not Be Built In Keney Park

Hartford Courant

March 24, 2009

Two decades ago, a developer wanted to build housing inside the periphery of Keney Park. City leaders rightly said no. The idea resurfaced again last year, and was again turned away.

Now a group wants to build a major equestrian center in the park. The answer must again be no. That is not what the parks are for.

The equestrian center proposal comes from the nonprofit Ebony Horsewomen. They want to lease 240 acres of the 693-acre Keney Park from the city for the project, and have asked to be given "tentative developer" status so they can seek investors.

The city council must turn down this request. City parks are not a place for developers, tentative or otherwise, and to allow development in one park is to open the door for it at the others.

To oppose this idea is not to disparage horseback riding, which has always been done in the park, or the Ebony Horsewomen. They are an outstanding group. They have stables adjacent to the park and run a program that teaches city youngsters to ride and care for horses.

Respect for the horsewomen could be why leaders such as Mayor Eddie Perez and council majority leader rJo Winch have expressed support for the equestrian center.

What they are not looking at is the scale and intensity of the project. It would take a third of the city's largest park and have a 37,500-square-foot main building with a museum, gift shop, restaurant and meeting space. It would include stables, 1,500 to 2,000 parking spaces, a polo field and four jumping arenas.

It is one thing to put a small recreational building in a park, quite another to build something the size of a shopping center.

Keney is a historic park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the "Rain of Parks" envisioned in the late 19th century by leaders such as the Rev. Horace Bushnell and the Rev. Francis Goodwin. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., Hartford native and father of the famous landscape architecture, hiked through the area as a boy. His firm, then run by his sons, designed the park after donor Henry Keney died in the 1890s.

Some say Keney Park does not get as much use as it should. There are things the city can do to better connect it to surrounding neighborhoods, such as cutting back the tree canopy in certain areas and paving some of the bike trails.

The important point is to keep it as a public park. The parks that leaders rained on the city a century ago are a tremendous asset that cannot be squandered, for any reason. That's why city leaders and parks advocates should develop a set of standards for what can and cannot be done in city parks. Otherwise, as history shows, there will always be people who want to use them for something other than the purpose for which they were intended.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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