Heritage Park Project

By | Published | No Comments

Heritage Park is a 364 acre county park in south Oconee between Watkinsville and Madison. The facility has miles of trails, a large covered arena and 30+ stall barn surrounded by acres of wide open meadow, as well as various buildings of historical significance that have been moved to the park from around the county. There are hiking, biking, and horse riding trails. The equestrian trails are VERY WELL maintained and many members of the local community ride there regularly. Parking and the trails are free and easy to access. You can read more about the park and look at the park trail map on the Oconee County Parks & Recreation website for Heritage Park.

Although Heritage has a lot of great features, it is not being used to its full potential. The AAHC team has a vision for its use and is currently working on a written proposal to offer solutions and fundraising ideas to Oconee Board of Commissioners. If you are interested in getting involved with this project, continue reading to learn about volunteering opportunities.

Heritage Park has HORSE STUFF?

Many members of the local horse community are either not aware that the Heritage Park covered arena exists, that the park has equestrian facilities, or are aware of the park but know that the arena is not horse-friendly.

The main issue is the arena footing. The arena is 30 years old and the m10 used in the footing has compacted into a dense concrete-like surface. As horse people, we all know that we cannot ride on this footing because it is detrimental to our horse’s joints and dangerous to trot or canter. Another noticeable issue with the park (we polled the local horse community) is difficulty of booking the facility. We are still brainstorming the ideal solutions to this complex issue and want to tie in the public to encourage future use of the facilities.

The park website states “The large open air arena at Heritage Park was created with agricultural and special events in mind.”, but actual events are few and far between. Dog agility trials, Fire Department Touch a Truck events, and the occasional rodeo pop up every once in a while, but there is no reason why there it should be sitting empty the majority of the year!

Our mission here at AAHC is to stimulate the growth of the local horse community. We would love to see the Heritage Park arena improved so it can be used as it was originally designed – for agricultural use and special events. Part of our goal is also to encourage land conservation, and the best way to keep open land for riding is to ride on it and show how valuable it is! This is why we are pushing for improvements.

In our community, land for horses and equestrians no longer exists unintentionally. If we, as a community, do not push to maintain and INTENTIONALLY USE facilities like Heritage Park, then they will cease to exist. If we want land to ride on in the future, then equestrians MUST make use of facilities like this. There were rumors a few years ago of closing the open walls of the arena and turning it into an office building for the county.

AAHC Founder, Amanda McCoy

Park Potential for Horse Events

The trails at Heritage see a lot of use. They are well maintained, well marked, and shaded with a variety of terrains. The trails are mixed use with mountain bikers and hikers on mostly separate paths with the occasional multi-purpose trail. There are established rules about hikers and cyclists yielding to riders and their horses, but as most trail riders have experienced, some people can be quite clueless about how scary a bike running up on a horse can be. In order to foster cooperation and harmony between trail users, it is important for all park users to respect the trail markings and communicate. Ideally we will be able to partner with the strong cycling community in the area to maintain trails and push for improvements together.

Heritage park has A LOT of potential. For us here at AAHC, we foresee jump schools, obstacle course challenges, games, barrel racing runs, and more! Input from the community is essential so we can build the best facility possible.

Immediate Impact and Future Improvements

Critical High Impact Improvements

  • Improve arena footing
  • Update event booking process
  • Extend fencing to tree line (about 50′ and will block horses from being able to easily get to a busy highway)
  • Add a barrier between the arena footing and concrete
  • Tools and education for park staff for footing managment

Future Improvements

  • Add an additional outdoor arena(s) and barns
  • Install another well
  • Build XC questions and an obstacle course
  • Sprinkler system in covered or equipment to manage dust
  • 1 mile conditioning track
  • Courtyard and concessions

How Can You Help?

The easiest thing you can do is talk to your friends and neighbors. Do you know someone who would be interested in showing at Heritage? Or maybe a show organizer that is looking for a facility to host events? Are you neighbors with an Oconee County Commissioner? Talk with them about AAHC, our efforts with Heritage, and other initiatives.

If you want to do more, here are some opportunities:

  • Finding and organizing Oconee County residents who support this initiative.
  • Finding and collecting letters of commitment to use the facility from equine organizations if the improvements are made.
  • Assistance with Written Proposal
  • We have 3 fundraising events in the works for 2022. A poker ride and then a hunter pace as well as an unmounted social event. We will need volunteers to help organize and execute these events.

If you are interested in helping with this project, please reach out through email (athensareahorsecommunity@gmail.com) or on social media.