EVERETT — As they set out on their first survey of local horse enthusiasts, Snohomish County parks officials had a hunch: that urbanization had pushed local equestrians far into rural areas.
As it turns out, they were wrong. While the largest group of survey-takers this spring and summer came from areas around Snohomish, Arlington and Monroe, there were plenty as well from Everett, Lynnwood and other city folk.
“We got a lot of responses from our urban hubs and our seaside communities,” said Shannon Hays, a spokeswoman for the county Parks, Recreation & Tourism department. “The equestrian community is still very strong here, and it is still very much a part of what Snohomish County is.”
The Horses Count survey collected feedback from almost 1,500 people from May through July. More than two-thirds of participants reported living in Snohomish County, the rest in other Washington communities or even out of state.
The survey gave the county a chance to sound out the kinds of amenities horseback riders would like to see built. Most, 80 percent, said they’d like to see more opportunities for back-country riding on natural surface trails, like those in Lord Hill Regional Park and Paradise Valley Conservation Area.
More than half of survey respondents, 54 percent, wanted additional long-distance rides, such as the Centennial Trail.
The unfinished Whitehorse Trail could grant some of those wishes. Large sections of the 27-mile corridor are expected to open next year, Hays said. The route largely parallels Highway 530 and the North Fork Stillaguamish River, on gravel with several bridge crossings.
Three-quarters of survey-takers asked for improvements to trailhead parking, the county reported. One idea is building pens for short-term use between unloading a horse from a vehicle and riding a trail. Most equestrian park users haul horses in a trailer, rather than riding there directly.
Another finding: 70 percent of participants wanted more space for camping with horses. The undeveloped Whitehorse Community Park could some day serve that purpose.
“Nothing is set yet, but it’s something we are seriously looking at,” Hays said.
The survey also showed interest in arenas and other spaces for equestrian competitions.
Separately, the Parks, Recreation & Tourism department recently received a state grant to help update plans for Lord Hill’s 32-mile trail system. Washington’s Recreation & Conservation Office supplied $130,739 and the county agreed to a $175,000 match.
Also at Lord Hill, The Traildusters Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Washington donated $5,000 from their annual Joe Watt Canyon Prize Ride toward the installation of signs to encourage trail etiquette and safety. That should help equestrians, cyclists and hikers co-exist in the 1,480-acre park.
The county expects additional sign money from an annual mountain-bike race at Lord Hill, though more will be necessary to cover the project’s expected cost of more than $30,000.