HINCKLEY TWP. — Some township equestrians say Cleveland Metroparks rangers have been ticketing riders for using certain bridle trails that have existed for decades.
However, Metroparks officials say the paths are “bootleg trails,” unofficial ones that weren’t supposed to be used in the first place. They say the horses can hurt local plants, animals and waterways if they don’t keep to the park-sanctioned trails.
There are still about nine miles of official bridle trails in the Hinckley Reservation, which is part of the Cleveland Metroparks
A local group of residents has banded together to petition the Metroparks and government officials to allow use of the 30 to 40 miles of “bootleg trails” throughout the Hinckley Reservation.
They say many of the residents in the area moved there so they could ride their horses close to their property.
“This is like horse central, and they said we don’t have anymore trails,” said Vivian Stefanchik, a Kellogg Road resident.
“Somehow we’ve got to solve this and I don’t know what to do.”
“What we want to happen is for them to reason with us and give us our horse trails back and have talks of what they want from us,” said a Stony Hill Road resident who didn’t want to be identified.
Dick Kerber, director of planning design and natural resources for the Cleveland Metroparks, said it’s always been against Metroparks rules to use the unsanctioned trails.
“For a while, when the numbers (of horse riders) were smaller, the impacts weren’t too great. It was kind of tolerable,” he said. But he said the number of equestrians has been growing as people moved farther south from the Cleveland area.
Plus, Kerber said, Hinckley is one of the “richest areas for plants and animals” in the Metroparks. He said the horses can trample the indigenous plants, some of which can’t be found in other parts of the region. They also can cause erosion that sends contaminants into the nearby Rocky River.
In addition, Kerber said the many trails cut the park into sections “like a jigsaw puzzle and it becomes tougher for the wildlife to move around.”
He said hikers, ATV riders and bikers have caused problems in other areas of the Metroparks and have been cited for going into protected areas. However, he said, the horse problem is specific to Hinckley.
He said parkland is a limited resource in Northeast Ohio.
“With the property we have we unfortunately can’t permit horses, hikers or bikers just to go anywhere they want to any given day. They would just end up destroying the resources we’re here to protect,” Kerber said.
However, the group of Hinckley equestrians has consulted with Kentucky-based Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, which specializes in making more sustainable trails.
“Horses don’t damage anything,” Mattingly Road resident Loretta Kremser said.
Equestrian Land Conservation Resource knows “how to build really good environmental, natural trails in the woods that aren’t going to harm anything.”
Plus, she said, there are paths that are easier on the horses than what the Metroparks provide.
Kremser said horses don’t like most of the official bridle trails in Hinckley, including an approximately 8-mile path that runs through much of the park and is made mostly of rock. Kremser said the rock splits the horses’ hooves and strains their tendons. Also, the wide path sparks the horses’ flight instincts.
“That looks like a field to them. They stand and they want to take off,” Kremser said.
Stefanchik said her horse tries desperately to avoid that trail and walk on the softer, wooded grounds nearby.
Kerber said the Metroparks upgraded that trail years ago at the request of horse riders who wanted wider, harder trails.
“What we’re trying to do is have some of both” the harder and softer trails, he said.
He said the Metroparks is looking to find areas where trails can be built in the Hinckley Reservation.
“One of the things that the horse riders tell us is that it just gets boring riding the same six or eight miles. We’re looking if we can find some additional areas where we can add some mileage to the horse trail system that would not be in the sensitive areas,” he said.
In the meantime, the group of Hinckley equestrians also is sending a letter to Metroparks officials, explaining their frustrations and asking to use the trails once again.
The group also has asked Medina County commissioners for their support.
Commissioner Steve Hambley said Metroparks officials will be coming to an upcoming meeting to explain the situation in Hinckley.
Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.