MANCHESTER — City water commissioners have eased up on the reins of a month-old policy restricting horseback riding around Lake Massabesic.
Manchester Water Works Director David Paris said the Board of Water Commissioners agreed to a compromise that leaves one section of fire roads open for unencumbered equines, provided members of the riding community leave no pile behind.
“I think it’s a good kind of compromise,” Paris said.
Citing concerns about polluting the Massabesic watershed, commissioners unanimously approved the restrictions in April over the many objections of horse enthusiasts who led a very public campaign before the ruling and continued to pressure the city after it.
The result was an unofficial revision that allows riding without first rigging the horses with a “device to collect waste” in a section north of the main between Little Massabesic and Clark Pond known to riders as “The Maze.”
“It’s a bit of an open door,” said Diane Russell, a Manchester resident who was part of the ongoing discussions with MWW.
The “bun bag” provision, one of the most contentious points during negotiations between the equine community and city, remains in place for all other areas around the lake under the new restrictions that took effect Sunday.
The Maze includes about five miles of the 50 miles of trails around the lake, but Russell viewed the compromise as a positive step that leaves her and other riders at least some area to enjoy. She was also pleased that the water commissioners voted to form a new committee on recreational use, which Paris said will bring together representatives from biking and other activities popular around the watershed.
“The idea is to get all parties in a room a couple times a year to discuss various issues,” Paris said. “By making sure all parties have a say, hopefully we don’t get into another contentious situation.”
Russell and Leslie Baxter agreed to represent the equine community on the new committee, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting today.
“We’re looking forward to going into it,” Russell said. “Both of us are fully committed to going into this with an open mind.”
Russell started a Facebook page last week under the name of Ride Free Massabesic, posting copies of one of the new MWW recreational use signs and a map detailing the trails available in the Maze area.
She said most of the responses she has seen and heard have been positive. Volunteers have already stepped up to help clear the Maze twice a week of any horse manure riders haven’t cleaned themselves, one of the MWW stipulations in the compromise reached at the water commissioners’ meeting on May 22.
Equestrians had been lobbying the board and city against imposing the restrictions, including the mandate to outfit horses with “collection devices” that Russell said were unproven for trail riding. It also created a safety issue because horses don’t react well to something they can’t see behind them.
The restriction passed anyway and the protests continued, gaining support after riders attended a Board of Aldermen meeting May 20 and spoke during the public comment period.
Russell had been scheduled to meet with Mayor Ted Gatsas, but it was postponed when Gatsas had heart bypass surgey on April 8. The meeting happened May 21 and Russell said she got a call the next morning from Gatsas, who suggested she attend the water commissioners’ meeting that afternoon.
The compromise on the Maze area came together, along with the formation of the new recreational use committee.
“We’re looking to have this be a successful program going forward,” Paris said. “I have every confidence it will work.”