South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District says ‘no’ to proposed trail pick-up policy

Not all animals are created equal, the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District decided this week.

At least not when it comes to their poop.

After a month of hearing why and why not horse owners should be required to pick up dung on Community Park trails like other animal owners, district commissioners decided it was not a big enough issue to draft and adopt new policy for equestrians.

“I walk the trails all the time and my feeling is it’s a nonissue,” district Commissioner Matt Simms said. “I think it’s a staff issue. If we see it, we clean it up.”

The decision, or non-decision, was made at the monthly district meeting on Wednesday after parks staff and commissioners reflected on both sides of the argument after the topic was initially brought up at last month’s meeting. Commissioner Mark Helpenstell added that the district’s groundskeeper, Tom Fallon, said his team could handle the piles upon being reported. Restricting horses from district trails altogether was never really considered by the board.

Before the decision, district Director Doug Coutts recommended the board not establish a rule that the district would have to significantly police due to its small staff size. He says if it becomes a major issue in the future, the district may need to look at bringing on another employee to help Fallon with his already small team.

Helpenstell mentioned concerns similarly voiced by other South End residents about what restricting horses would mean for South Whidbey’s rural character.

“I hope we’re not at the point where we would ban horses completely,” Helpenstell said. “I continue to believe we are rural and will continue to be.”

A handful of people advocating to keep district policy as is attended the meeting, while nobody who voiced concerns over the poop showed up. Greenbank resident Jerry Lloyd presented a collection of studies to the board that deemed horse poop isn’t a health hazard to trail walkers. He then said restricting horses from the trails would take a hobby away for South Whidbey youth who live near Community Park. He feared they would be forced to ride on the roadside or give it up altogether for other potentially dangerous hobbies.

“I was very happy to see they didn’t make a knee-jerk decision,” Lloyd said. “I wasn’t there to say we have to have horses in the park, I was there to make sure any decision made was made with good science and with the community in mind.”

The horse droppings issue started conversations in the community after The Record reported on complaints to district commissioners during their August meeting. Those in favor of doing something about the pileup said that horse owners should adhere to the same rules required for dogs. Some felt the horse dung takes away from the beauty of Community Park’s trails, while others said horse manure catchers used in urban parades should be required.

Equestrians later responded in letters to the editor and online with a host of arguments, from assertions that horse and dog poop are biologically different, with only the latter posing health hazards, to those who said any rules requiring riders to clean up after their horses was a threat to rural character.

“The bigger story is the potential urbanization of Whidbey Island,” Lloyd said. “There are a lot of people here who don’t need the Bellevue way of life.”