Demand from the large and varied horsebackriding community in Queen Creek has prompted town officials to speed the design and construction of a town equestrian center.
The process of designing the approximately $8 million facility is expected to start later this month, with construction to begin as early as July.
"We’re going to be pushing the schedule as much as we can, responsibly," said Lisa Padilla, Queen Creek’s project manager for the center. "The park has been promised to residents for several years, and in Arizona, the horse industry is a billion-dollar industry."
Queen Creek plans to put a 128-acre park, 33 acres of which will be specifically devoted to an equestrian center, at the northeast corner of Riggs and Hawes roads. The site is within 10 miles of two sites that neighboring Gilbert is considering for its own equestrian and events venue.
But demand for such venues is great. A quarter of respondents to a Queen Creek town survey in April said they lived on lots big enough to keep horses, and officials said even more residents have horses but board them elsewhere. In 2004, the United States Team Roping Championships showed the Queen Creek ZIP code, 85242, as having 181 registered team ropers, the most in the country, but the town has no rodeo facilities. The equestrian center would change that.
The original Queen Creek horse park plan, initiated in 1998, was delayed and revised as the community grew and the need arose to put more trash into the Queen Creek landfill to fill a large hole in the planned park area.
The plan was refined and given a name — Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre — in 2003, and a final design process is scheduled to begin after a Jan. 18 Town Council meeting to approve a contract.
The town plans to use 33 acres of the landfill for the equestrian center — phase one of the project. A conceptual design includes five lighted arenas, one covered; livestock stalls, pens and chutes; parking areas; recreational vehicle hookups; vendor areas and concessions; and showers, restrooms, offices and maintenance facilities.
Phase two of the project does not have a scheduled completion date. It would include horse trails, picnic ramadas, a mountaintop gazebo and a grass amphitheater to fill the rest of the site.
What will really set the town facility apart, said assistant parks and recreation director Creighton Wright, is its size.
"Right now, in Queen Creek, it’s mostly folks with smaller arenas that can do smaller shows," he said.
Queen Creek’s future center could handle a 200- to 300-horse show, Wright said.
Kim Williamson, an area resident and a world champion roper, said a venue of that size would create endless opportunities for the various types of equestrians in Queen Creek.
"It’s going to be a lot of great opportunity for the youngsters, that’s for sure," Williamson said. "Most of the arenas right now are individual arenas."
Williamson said she looks forward to hosting the roping clinics she offers at www.kimwilliamson.net at the planned Queen Creek facility.
Queen Creek Vice Mayor Jon Wootten, co-leader of Queen Creek 4-H’s horse project, said the center also is critical for the area’s youth.
"I believe that kids having large animals is part of that rural feel and, in order to help foster that, we have to make sure kids have the opportunities that bring large animals with them," Wootten said. "It helps foster and maintain that rural atmosphere."
But horse shows aren’t all the town expects the venue to host, Wootten said.
"Community events, livestock shows, model airplane shows, dog shows, there are a lot of things that go on in that kind of space," he said. "I think we are discussing the idea of adding a banquet hall to that area, which is great, it just increases the amount of things that go on there."
The current conceptual plan for the park and equestrian center shows little evidence of the landfill it will be built over. It does show a oneacre methane gas collection area, used for harvesting the gas produced by decaying waste.
Maricopa County agreed to a settlement earlier this year after a state complaint filed on behalf of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said the county had, in the past, failed to report methane levels at the landfill that exceeded the minimum percentage of the gas that could cause an explosion.
Wright said the town is awaiting the results of recent tests on the methane levels at the site. The results should come back in January.
When finished, Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre could one day be within 10 miles of a similar equestrian and event venue in neighboring Gilbert. Gilbert is putting a $10 million bond issue before voters in March for funding construction of the facility, which could be built within five years.
Wright said he doesn’t expect the venues to suffer from competition, though, because there is such a large demand for equestrian areas in this part of the East Valley.