Some legislators worry about investing matching funds in endless pit’ By Edie Johnson Montgomery Orange County’s equestrians have long dreamed of a horse park near home. But in these hard economic times, even a gift that would bring that dream closer is getting some hard scrutiny. A $400,000 state grant is available for projects like the county’s 67-acre Blackburne Farm and Horse Park being developed at Thomas Bull Memorial Park. Some legislators on the county’s Physical Services say applying for the grant is a “no brainer.” But others wonder if they are wading too deep into the “endless pit” that equestrian projects can dig. Under the terms of the grant, the county would be obligated to put up an equal amount of money. The grant is being offered by the New York Restoration Project, which was founded by Bette Midler, the singer and actress, to create and restore parks and gardens. The county parks commissioner, Richard Rose, presented the grant application to the committee. The funds will be used for basic infrastructure at the park, like road extension and parking areas. The Ottaway family donated half the property about six years ago with the provision that it be used for equestrian activities. The state funded the other half. All income from renting the park’s group use areas, including the equestrian grounds, goes into the county’s general fund. These group use areas are usually booked up at this time of year. Blackburne Farm is managed by the Friends of the Orange County Horse and Farm Center, a group of volunteers formed in 2005 by members of the Orange County the Horse Council. Rose said it is not unusual for parklands to be supported by a group of “Friends” that donates both time and money. The county’s Hill-Hold Museum and arboretum operate this way. Members of the Physical Services Committee said it wants to see more details of the Friends’ plans. The Friends say have wanted a master plan for the facility all along, and have been hoping for a grant to pay for it. Legislator Tom Pahucki pointed to several large equestrian parks in the state that have failed. Others legislators with similar concerns said that in addition to wanting more details, they want to be sure the county is “held harmless” in the event of any mishap at the facility. Meanwhile, supporters of the horse park point to their numerous accomplishments so far sprucing up the park, collecting donations, and enriching the county’s general fund with revenue from shows already held in the park’s small arena. They say a full-service equestrian center will be a valuable service to local horse people who now have to travel out of the county to shows in Sussex, Saratoga, Valley Forge, or Harrisburg, Pa. The Friends say the facility will ultimately be shared with a farm education center, the 4-H Club, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Horse park advocates say that fostering an equestrian community at home is good for local businesses, because horse people spend significant sums on tack, grain, and hay. And, they say, an equestrian center will make Orange County a tourist destination, and provide a venue where local youth may engage in an exciting and productive sport.