The Equine Steering Committee of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce is moving forward with plans to develop a world class international horse park in Aiken. Although the ESC has been talking about a horse park since its inception in early 2009, it has yet to create a formal plan and a proposal to do so. This spring however, the committee commissioned Jeff Wallace, a former editor at the Aiken Standard, to put together a draft of a white paper entitled a "Vision for an International Horse Park in Aiken County." The paper was then circulated to the members of the Equine Steering Committee, the chamber's board of directors, and to the membership of the Equine Support Council for review, comments and suggestions.
The proposal, which is 16 pages long, gives a summary of the history of the horse industry in Aiken and makes a case for the construction of a "comprehensive multi-use facility amenable to all equestrian disciplines." The ideal location for the park is deemed to be "somewhere in the 1-20 corridor, close to but not in Aiken proper." The park is envisioned as something that will help the equestrian industry in town, but which also is something that Aiken itself needs for a healthy future. Since the 1950s, the Savannah River Plant has been the major driver in Aiken's economy. With closures at the plant "more the rule than the exception", Aiken would be well advised to "look to other areas to bolster its future economy."
The proposal calls for a facility that encompasses at least 600 to 1000 acres, with space for a cross country course, permanent barns, a covered arena, and an "architecturally striking" signature building that is seen as a tourist destination in itself. The park would also have its own trail system, which would, ideally, connect up with a countywide system of trails that the Equine Support Council is in the process of establishing. The plan calls for the use of as much green technology as possible in the construction of the park, thus making it a "national model for conservation and green development." Use of green technology might also make the construction of the park eligible for various government grants and loans.
All of this is still in the very early planning stages, however. Not only is the draft white paper being modified through discussions with members of the Equine Support Council, but the Equine Steering Committee has yet to decide how the park should be funded, who exactly should own it, and even if they should pursue the project. An international horse park of the size and stature envisioned by the ESC's plan would necessarily cost many millions of dollars. Exactly where that money might come from in these uncertain economic times is certainly an important question. But proponents of the horse park are not daunted. Even if the money for the project is not all there yet, and even if the facility has to be constructed in stages, they believe that a horse park is vital to the future of the equestrian industry in the area, and even to the future of Aiken County itself.