Horse poop pileup has South Whidbey Parks District pondering

Clinton resident Jim Abercrombie brought photos of horse poop on Community Park trails to the monthly Parks and Recreation District meeting Wednesday. The board agreed to begin considering solutions.

In the peaceful, groomed trails of Community Park, an unpleasant issue is beginning to pile up according to a couple of trail regulars: horse droppings.

Complaints of horse poop littering on the trails in Community Park were discussed at the monthly South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District meeting on Wednesday evening. A regular trail walker and Clinton resident presented the odorous issue to the parks commissioners and district staff. He brought pictures to the meeting to back up his claims, and there were many photos proving his point.

The trail regular, Jim Abercrombie, said the droppings have been an increasing issue over the past month or so. Most of the photos he brought to the meeting were taken in the days leading up to the meeting.

“The Community Park trails are a great venue to exercise and walk around — it’s special,” Abercrombie said. “I walk around here five or six days a week. It’s bothersome this would take place in such a great venue.”

The issue was initially brought to Parks Director Doug Coutts’ attention in an email sent by fellow trail user Larry Donelan. Coutts said Donelan’s email spoke of how “disgusting” it was to have to avoid the droppings on the trail, and asked if the parks district board would address the issue. Donelan’s email then asked the board to restrict horses from the Community Park trails, Coutts said in the meeting.

Once Coutts received the email, he placed it on Wednesday’s meeting agenda. Abercrombie happened to show up to discuss the very same issue.

“I think somebody can bring something along for cleanup,” Abercrombie said. “I saw a lady with a chihuahua bring a bag. I haven’t even seen one person with a dog without a bag.”

Coutts said the issue has come up in the past, although it hasn’t been brought to the board’s attention. It’s typically just a matter of cleaning it up, but when Donelan asked the board to do something to address his concerns, Coutts said he felt it was time the matter was discussed by the commissioners.

Coutts, board members and Abercrombie all agreed that this isn’t a staff issue, rather a policing issue. Horseback riders often aren’t aware of their horse’s droppings, Coutts said, since they sit on top of their towering animals. He then said the parks district will either have to live with the poop or update the district’s code of conduct. Options include requiring horseback riders to use horse manure catchers or banning horses from the Community Park trails entirely.

Before reacting quickly with a new law, Parks Commissioner Matt Simms voiced caution about making a reactionary decision.

“Normally when something like this comes up for the first time, our general approach is to go out and find a full scope of the facts and situation and talk to people on all sides,” Simms said. “We don’t want to be reactionary. We want to hear people’s input but also look for a balanced response.”

Coutts and the board said they would look at ways other parks in the state combat the poop problem. They decided to mull over a way to move forward and placed the issue on next month’s meeting agenda.