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September 28, 2005

Save Fair Hill

"I'm not here for a lynching," said Cecil County Commissioner, Bill Manlove. It was too close to reality to be a joke.

"I've got my red pickup right over there!" shouted a bystander, insinuating that he was only too eager to drag the commissioner to death.

The crowd stirred and Manlove gave a nervous chuckle. A police officer stepped away from the crowd and pulled out his radio, ready to call for backup.

Bridge_FairHill_1.jpg
Fair Hill as it is meant to be.

Bridge_FairHill2.jpg
The Covered Bridge.

A hundred angry citizens had gathered on Saturday, September 17th to protest the selling and development of Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has asked the counties in Maryland to propose possible locations for a place to build a horse park. This would be a place where national and international non-racing competitions would be held, including: steeplechase, dressage, rodeos, concerts, and other cultural events. They plan on building 8-12 outdoor showing arenas, a large concession area, a campground, a barn with a minimum of 1,000 stalls, offices for vets, farriers, and breeders, a museum, an enclosed 5000 person arena, and parking lots large enough to accommodate massive numbers of cars.

The five Cecil County commissioners proposed Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, a public park containing over 75 miles of trails, as a possible site for the new horse park. The park has been a haven of wild, open space in a quickly developing area, but how much longer can that last?

The bid for the horse park to be in Fair Hill was made before the public was ever even heard about the plans. “There was no ballot,” Said Manlove. “It was a consensus of the board that we would go for it.” With 5,613 acres state owned open space the Stadium Authority was immediately interested.

The Stadium Authority claims that the project will bring massive economic benefit and cultural enrichment. Alison Asti, the executive director of the project explains: “There are really two reasons to build a horse park. One is to encourage the agricultural industry by having more people to utilize the business of our farmers and our tack shops and our small business. [Secondly], open space will be made because people will continue to keep their horse farms, they would continue to grow hay, and all their agricultural enterprises would be enhanced.”

FairHillDustyRoad
Fair Hill as it it Today.

It sounds like a great leap forward for a county know for its backwardness, however, there is more than one catch.

If Fair Hill N.R.M.A. is selected as the site for the horse park it would mean that the DNR would be turning control of the park over to the Maryland Stadium Authority. The DNR is chartered to protect open space and maintain a park that is ecologically thriving and recreationally appealing. The Stadium Authority is chartered solely to make money.

It is doubtful that the economic benefits will go to Maryland at all. “Cecil County has nothing,” Said one protester. “Anyone that comes to these events will eat, sleep, and shop in Delaware because it’s a mile away, they have hotels, and there is no sales tax.”

According to Collin who's writing a book with Jason and Joe on the history and current activities of Fair Hill, the state bought the park from William Dupont in 1979 with the understanding that it would be open space for the public to enjoy. “William Dupont spent his whole life buying up farms and properties for more than their value then letting them go back to nature,” says Collin. “He wanted to see the land wild and undeveloped.”

Methuselah
Earth's Finest Tree.

Since 1979, the park has done an outstanding job of fulfilling Mr. Dupont’s wishes. In 1997 the state handed control of the property to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and established the Fair Hill Unit Plan. This plan stated that there should be no commercial development in Fair Hill outside of the existing fair grounds. The plan was made into law, but now it might be overturned. This is a proposition that worries some environmentalists. “What strength do our conservation plans have if we overturn this?” Asked a protester. People shouted to show their agreement.

“Why are people so surprised?” Asked park user, Michael Dean. “The American government has been lying since the beginning. They lied to the Indians then stole their land. Now they are lying to Cecil County and stealing their land.”

Monday, September 19th there was a public hearing to discuss the building of the park. Over 400 hundred people attended. The vast majority of the people violently opposed any change to the park.

Ed Walls, one of the founders of Fair Hill N.R.M.A. and the director of the park spoke for all the protesters. “The volunteers and the and the staff at fair hill have done so much with so little for so long, they can do almost anything with nothing,” he said. “Look how beautiful it is there with that small crew there now! We don’t need anybody to come there and help them out, because nobody has.” The crowd erupted into cheers.

Ferns_FairHill1.jpg
Ferns Growing on a Ruin.

The Stadium Authority is scheduled to announce their decision about the location of the horse park by the end of September.

For more information, visit Save Fair Hill.

Posted by ian on September 28, 2005 12:07 AM

Comments

WHAT?!?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!? I don't go there that much, but STILL!

Posted by: sha'uri on September 28, 2005 08:43 AM

Back room deals made by a bunch of men in suits who aren't thinking about who they're representing doesn't seem like the democracy that young men and women are dying to supposedly spread in the Middle East.

I really hope this fails.

I'm not even that into horses. People should walk, for goodness sake.

Posted by: Jason – Band Member [TypeKey Profile Page] on September 28, 2005 09:55 AM

I agree man! There is absolutely nothing democratic about this process. Sure, elected officials are making the desicion, but they aren't doing what the citizens want.

I think there should be a county wide vote.

Posted by: Ian on September 28, 2005 10:00 AM

I'd move to cecil county for that! (that and that ALONE, mind you...)

Posted by: Laura on September 28, 2005 01:52 PM

Thank you for posting such a well written and insightful article about Fair Hill NRMA. I have been a park user for the past 10 years and find it to be a pristine, natural oasis in the middle of encroaching suburban blight. A small group of us have been working to bring attention to this proposed development inside the nature preserve since we heard about it in early June. At one point, it appeared that Fair Hill was going to be a likely choice for the Maryland Stadium Authority's Horse Park, but as of this date, they have postponed making a decision on the site. While this provides some nominal encouragement, public pressure on local and state officials needs to be maintained to assure that the character and beauty of Fair Hill is secured for the people of today and tomorrow. On behalf those working through SaveFairHill.com, thank you for bringing attention to this important issue.
Mike

Posted by: Michael Goetz on October 8, 2005 06:19 PM

Cool article. thank's.

Posted by: Bella on April 6, 2006 08:22 PM

ionolsen23 Your site is very cognitive. I think you will have good future.:)

Posted by: preved on October 20, 2006 03:44 PM

Fight to keep the park and land we all deserve it.

Posted by: Tracie on May 8, 2008 09:53 AM

Fight to keep the park and land we all deserve it.

Posted by: Tracie on May 8, 2008 09:53 AM

Hi there,
I am the founder of SaveFairHill inc. I have recently been made aware that the Maryland Horse Park idea has come back to life.
Also - related to this, I have heard rumours of a proposal to build an Indoor Stadium at Fair Hill for the horse industry.
Our website is no longer active but I will be either re-kindling it, or setting up a Facebook group in the very near future.
Please stay tuned!
Hattie
on behalf of SaveFairHill Inc

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