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Beaches: County Council says Whoa!

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The period during which horses can be ridden on Georgetown County beaches would shrink by one-third with action under consideration by County Council.

Horseback riding is allowed on the beach from Sept. 15 until March 15, but council voted unanimously this week to delay the annual start date to Nov. 15. A final vote will take place Sept. 27.

The abbreviated window for horseback riding is a compromise, said Council Member Jerry Oakley, who suggested the change. When council last discussed the issue more than 10 months ago, it was looking at a ban on horses on the beach. That idea was met with loud and fervent opposition from equestrians.

“Although I’m an animal lover and I certainly understand the appeal of riding horses on the beach, I would prefer to ban it entirely,” Oakley said. “It’s a safety issue for people and horses.”

The county’s beach accesses aren’t designed to allow horses to safely cross the dunes, he explained.

Waste from horses is another problem. Horse owners are supposed to clean up after their animals, but many of them haven’t done so and the county doesn’t have adequate staff to enforce the pick-up law or clean the beaches. Complaints come in from other beach users every season, according to staff.

“This is a textbook kind of case in point where there are different users of the same resource and components of those different uses conflict,” Oakley said. “I’m not a big believer in regulation. I don’t think anybody really likes it, but sometimes it’s inevitable.”

When the ban was discussed in November 2010, council deferred it and passed the issue on to recreation staff, the Parks and Recreation Commission and council’s Land Use and Tourism Committee to form a recommendation.

Bob Hesterfer, who serves on the recreation commission addressed the committee in support of Oakley’s suggestion.

“It shows good faith and takes care of some problems we do have,” he said. “It seems a reasonable thing to look at.”

However, he recommended a review after the new system has been in place for one year. That idea was well-received by the committee and council.

Hesterfer also suggested investigating the possibility of getting horseback riding allowed at Huntington Beach State Park.

The north end of the park would provide “tremendous access” and there are few people who frequent that area, he said, so contact between horses and other beachgoers would be limited. Most of the visitors stick to the center of the park, near the parking lots.

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