Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Horseback Riding at Guana under Study; Concerns Raised about What Effects More Activity Will Have on the Environment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Horseback Riding at Guana under Study; Concerns Raised about What Effects More Activity Will Have on the Environment

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTINA ABEL

State environmental officials confirmed that they won't approve any equestrian plans at the Guana Reserve that would harm the dunes, but they do want to extend a year-long horseback riding program to test what effects, if any, riding has on the reserve's water quality.

Bob Ballard, deputy secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said at a meeting Thursday at the Guana office south of Ponte Vedra Beach that DEP intended to monitor the ocean water quality over the past year, but that didn't happen.

"We don't do anything to harm the dunes," he reiterated Thursday. "They are one of the most pristine areas of the state."

However, he said, he wants to extend the program, which allows horseback riding from 8 a.m. until sunset seven days a week on the trails and during daylight hours within three hours of low tide on the beaches.

"I'm requesting that the program be extended another year so that we can test the water quality over that time because right now we have no results," Ballard said.

Ballard approved the initial year-long program at the request of Ponte Vedra Beach resident Ellen O'Brien, who approached him because, at the time, horseback riding was not permitted on wooded trails in the reserve on weekends and holidays.

In the meantime, O'Brien wrote to Ballard with an additional request for a trail leading to the beach, across Florida A1A from one of three beach access parking lots. The trail would be cut through the dunes.

At the meeting Thursday, Guana staff and DEP officials spoke about the horseback riding issue as part of updating the management plan for the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, between Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine. The area encompasses 60,000 acres of salt marsh and mangrove tidal wetlands, oyster bars, hammock uplands, estuarine lagoons and beaches. …

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