PALM CITY, Fla. - A big brown horse named Bella clip clopped through a Palm City horse trail near Martin Downs Equestrian Center, carrying the center's barn manager Tara Jacobs. The afternoon sun shone down on them. Jacobs loves riding the trails, and she wants the trail system through Palm City Farms to expand.
Jacobs is part of a heated argument over right of way, which prompted Martin County District 5 Commissioner Ed Ciampi to hold a meeting for community members. The public forum Wednesday night at the Peter and Julie Cummings Library in Palm City, brought out arguments about liability and homeowners' rights against those of equestrians who want continued access to an historic area.
The trail system was dedicated almost 100 years ago to equestrians and their horses. Jacobs wants the system to expand. She and others argue many miles of potential trail are closed right now because of fence and vegetation overgrowth.
"Now we have so many people in the area that would benefit from it and do want to utilize it, it should be a non-issue that we could reclaim this and maintain it, and use it, what it was intended for," said Jacobs.
In 1916, more than 100 acres of land were dedicated as Palm City Farms trails. Nearly a century later, a lot of homes have gone up around that land.
At the meeting, about half of the speakers, most of them Palm City Farms residents, opposed the trails. They talked about problems like lack of privacy, trespassing, litter and the environmental impact to wetlands. And the biggest concern of all was potential liability.
"A child falls off a horse on the equestrian trail, the horse runs away to go back to his farm, he crosses the highway and runs into oncoming cars. What could happen then?" asked Tina Konyot, an Olympic rider on the American Equestrian Team and a part-time Palm City resident.
Homeowners want to know who will be held responsible if a rider is hurt on their property or their road.
The people who spoke in favor of the trails talked about their historic nature, the joy and safety of riding in the woods and their rights to trail access.
The issue was not solved at the meeting, but it did open the door for the county to figure out where to go from here, in an attempt to appease a passionate argument from both sides of the issue.