In recent years, Kansas City and Platte County have been collecting taxes for hiking, biking and horse trails, but they haven’t built any trails specifically for horseback riders. That might be about to change.
Harry “Cliff” Osborne, a past president and current board member of the Kearney Saddle Club, spoke to a Parks and Recreation Department committee this month to ask the city to make improvements to Tiffany Springs Park that would give horseback riders safe access to the trails they already use there informally.
Now a parks department official said he is studying the proposal and hopes to accommodate Osborne’s request within a year.
“Anything we can get, we will be tickled to death,” Osborne said.
Osborne notes that the only dedicated equestrian trails in the Northland are the roughly 26 miles of trails around Smithville Lake in Clay County. His group helps to maintain them.
“We use our own personal equipment to mow some areas, trim, cut brush and, in some cases, move gravel, and we police up trash on the trails,” Osborne said in an email.
But he also notes that both Platte County and Kansas City have collected parks taxes with the premise of developing trails for several uses.
“Since 2000 Platte County has been collecting a one-half-cent sales tax for hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and Kansas City passed collecting one-cent sales tax for capital improvements in 1983, renewed in 1988, 2000 and 2007, which includes developing hiking, biking and equestrian trails,” Osborne wrote. “Yes, hiking and biking trails have been created … but no equestrian trails.”
Visions of trails
The Platte County Parks Department website contains a link to a “Northland Trails Vision Plan” adopted by both Clay and Platte counties. It notes that in August 2000, Platte County voters approved a 10-year, half-cent sales tax for trails, parks and stormwater improvements. Clay County has no such tax.
Even so, working through the Clay County Economic Development Commission, a task force drafted a trails concept plan for the Northland in 1998.
A Clay-Platte “Trails Vision Plan” notes that “Residents in both counties have expressed an interest in hiking, biking and equestrian trails” and says “(t)he plan includes facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians or hikers, shared use trails, and equestrian trails.”
It says the counties “will take responsibility for carrying out the plan within their areas. Funding for construction and maintenance will likely come from a variety of sources, including local tax revenues, federal and state grants and private contributions.”
Kansas City published its “Trails KC Plan” in 2008, outlining its “vision for developing a first-class shared-use trail system for pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians for both commuting and recreation.”
It pledges within 15 years of adoption to build “more than 40 miles of equestrian trails open to the public.”
The Trails KC Plan sets out standards for the various types of trails and notes that when “properly designed,” equestrian trails can simultaneously accommodate hikers and bikers.
Filling a niche
Osborne said that is just what has been going on in Tiffany Springs Park east of the Missouri 152/Interstate 435 interchange in Platte County on an informal basis for several years. He and his fellow riders access the park in Platte County from Northwest Hampton Road. But Osborne says it’s dangerous for horse owners to park their trailers on the roadside and saddle up while standing in or near the road.
That’s why he and another equestrian met with members of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department development committee on May 1 to ask the city to build a parking lot where they can unload safely. They had already met this spring with Platte County Parks and Recreation officials and were told the county had no land on which to build horse trails.
But Platte County Parks Director Brian Nowotny said the county sometimes makes “outreach grants” to non-profit groups and to other municipalities to help them meet mutually beneficial goals. Nowotny said the development of equestrian facilities at Tiffany Springs Park might be eligible for such a grant if a Platte County-based entity requested it.
Kansas City Parks Superintendent Forest Decker said he has met with members of the Kearney Saddle Club a couple of times and thinks they have a reasonable request.
“It’s something we do need,” Decker said. “It’s a niche we don’t currently fill.”
Decker said the department is “considering how to pursue his (Osborne’s) proposal and what level of partnership to have with the club. With anything like that, we’d want a public-private partnership. They’re the experts.”
Decker said both of the spots in Tiffany Springs Park that the riding club has proposed for parking lots have challenges that would have to be overcome. One area has a gas line running beneath it, and the other has drainage problems, Decker said. But he thinks those issues might be overcome by installing a gravel surface, rather than a paved lot requiring excavation.
“The next step — and hopefully it won’t be long — will be us putting together a site plan for those lots and doing a feasibility study. Then we will get back together to discuss forming a partnership,” Decker said.
Decker said completion of a parking lot for Northland equestrians and marking the informal trails in Tiffany Springs Park with signs “is probably a year away.”
“I would like to bring those guys back for another meeting in early to mid-June,” Decker said.
That’s music to Osborne’s ears.
“Fantastic,” he said.