Heritage Park Improvements, an AAHC Community Initiative
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, a 30+ stall barn surrounded by acres of wide open meadow, and 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 by a group of dedicated horseback riders/volunteers, 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.
Latest Update (28 May 2023): The Oconee Board of Commissioners chose to add/allocate $100k to Heritage Park for Fiscal Year 2024 (starts in July 2023)! We are waiting to see if/when OCPRD (Oconee Parks and Rec Dept) moves forward on arena improvements. They do have a land use study out on request because if they put the warm up arena(s) directly next to the covered, it will require some dirt to be moved. – Amanda
Heritage has a lot of great features, but it is not being used to its full potential. The AAHC team has a vision for its use and is currently working with Oconee Parks and Rec 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 biggest opportunities are the arena footing, fence around the covered, and a warm up arena. The covered 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. A fence in the covered and a warm up arena are needed to safely use the facility for horseback riding. Two other opportunities are that OCPRD does not have any staff members that have horses AND the use of the facility cannot yet support a staff at the facility. As a result of the latter, booking the facility can be time consuming and challenging.
The park website states “The large open air arena at Heritage Park was created with agricultural and special events in mind”. Heritage Park has a few annual events: two 4-H/FFA livestock shows a year, the OCPRD Touch a Truck event, and the occasional corporate get together… the investments we are recommending help the park reach it’s full potential.
Our mission here at AAHC is to stimulate the growth of the local horse community. We are excited about the potential Heritage Park holds for the local horse community. Part of our mission 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 and we are excited about this project’s momentum, the support from within the county, as well as the support from all of you – the local horse community. 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
- Add warm-up arena with all-weather 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 management
- Second well to support existing well
- Add an additional outdoor arena and barn
- Festival grounds and food court area
- Build XC questions and an obstacle course
- Sprinkler system in covered or equipment to manage dust
- 1 mile conditioning track
We were set to introduce the proposal to Oconee County Park’s Recreational Advisory Committee on November 15th but that has been pushed by the Parks Director to RAC Board’s Jan 2023 meeting. The Board of Commissioners is still open to considering the project for funding in 2023, as they start their budgeting process in January.
If they approve the funding at least partially, then we may organize some fundraising opportunities in 2023.
Now is the time to talk to the members of Oconee’s Board of Commissioners about Heritage Park.
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
If you are interested in helping with this project, please reach out through email (email@example.com) or on social media.