Flashback to when community members in the Denver suburbs established the Cherry Hills Riding Trails.
In many cities and towns all over the country, zoning regulations allow horses to be kept in suburban residential areas, but as the areas continue to be developed, riding trails are rapidly disappearing until—as in many cases—there are none at all. And it isn’t much fun to have a horse in your backyard if there is no place to ride him.
One community that solved this problem is Cherry Hills Village, a home-rule city which is part of the greater Denver area. Within the village today, there are approximately 15 miles of bridle trails, with more planned. And that isn’t all.
Most of these trails “feed” into the Highline Canal Trail which stretches for an additional 22 miles through an adjacent town and into Arapahoe County. This excellent riding trail parallels the canal—and during the winter when the canal is dry, horseman can also ride in the canal itself. The sandy footing provides an excellent place to leg-up and condition horses.
Like so many good things, the Cherry Hills riding trails didn’t happen overnight. Getting them established has taken much time and effort by several horse owners within the village. The groundwork was actually laid years ago when Cherry Hills Village became incorporated. At that time, easements for bridle paths were set aside, but the trails themselves were not established. With much of the village undeveloped, there was plenty of country in which to ride and there seemed little need for building specific trails.
Within recent years, however, rapid development within the village began to eliminate many open places to ride. Horse owners began to realize that if action were not taken, all riding areas would soon vanish. Therefore several individuals, led by Al Saterdal and Ed Wasson, got together to see about utilizing the established easements for bridle paths. This was a problem because—since the easements were not being used—many property owners had planted trees and shrubbery on them, or even fenced them off. It also involved much work in determining just where the easements were . . . and mapping out a network of trail according to locations of the easements.
In the meantime, Saterdal and Wasson were instrumental in forming the Cherry Hills Park & Trail Association, whose purpose is “to actively support the creation, use, and maintenance of a system of public trails through the village for pedestrian, horseback, and bicycle use.” Association members, working together with the village planning commission, visited property owners, reminded them of the easements through their property, and asked their cooperation in clearing the easements of any trees or shrubbery, and removing any fences. Transplanting of trees, etc., was done by the association.
As soon as an easement was cleared and made ready for use, it was fenced off. If the property owner desired, he could put up his own decorative type fence at his cost; otherwise the village fenced it, using woven wire and wood posts. The fencing is important for several reasons. First, it prevents horses and riders from straying onto lawns; second, it helps keep motorized vehicles off the bridle paths; and third, it prevents property owners from planting on them, or otherwise shutting them off. Motorized vehicles, incidentally, are banned from the bridle paths by a city ordinance.
Money for fencing is derived from the mill levy fund, with the village providing the labor. Cherry Hills has no parks per se; but by city ordinance, the bridle trails are considered as “parks”. This explains why tax money and village labor can be used to establish and maintain these popular trails.
The trails are about 16 feet wide to allow plenty of room for horses—and also to allow city trucks to drive through when necessary to remove tree limbs and do other maintenance work.
Gates into the trails are installed at a property owner’s request, enabling him to enter the trail from his property instead of having to ride a long distances along many of the village streets and roads.
Maintenance of the Highline Canal is done by Denver’s South Suburban Metropolitan Recreation and Park District (SSMPRD). This canal is owned by the Denver Water Board, but the board has turned it over to SSMRPD for recreational purposes. Future plans call for developing small picnic sites with hitching posts along the canal—making picnic rides possible for Cherry Hills horseman.
One problem that has impeded the establishment of a similar trails system in some towns has been the liability angle. Property owners have been understandably reluctant to grant easements if they feel they might be held legally responsible in case of accidents on their easements. But in Cherry Hills, the legal responsibility lies with the village.
As Mayor Guy H. Williams, Jr., explains it, “In order to ask for an easement, the village must indemnify the property owner from any liability. Cherry Hills is a home-ruled city under the laws of Colorado, and we maintain public liability insurance which covers our police, street equipment, and parks, which would include our bridle paths.”
Now that the Cherry Hills Park and Trail Association is so well organized, and works with the village planning commission, it is comparatively easy to establish easements on property being developed for the first time. And it’s especially easy with sub-dividers developing large tracts. Mayor Williams explains that when a sub-divider appears before the village planning commission, it can be “strongly suggested” to him that he must grant bridle path easements before his plans are approved.
“As far as the legality of this is concerned,” Williams adds, “there is no legal way the commission can force the developer to do this. However, most of them are happy to cooperate since bridle paths will enhance the value of a new housing development in such a horse-minded community as Cherry Hills.”
Williams explains that it is also easier to acquire easements through a developer controlling a large amount of acreage than through individual new home builders who perhaps have just one or two acres each. In other words, it saves a lot of time and leg work. Of course, where there are no proposed bridle trails, it is not necessary to get easements from property owners.
This article was originally published in the April 1971 issue of Western Horseman.