Amanda McCoy says that the covered arena at Oconee County’s Heritage park is in disrepair and underutilized and that she has a plan to change that.
A self-described “horse lady,” McCoy appeared before the Board of Commissioners back in November with suggestions on how to make the facility more usable for horse events.
McCoy followed that up with a presentation last week before the county’s Recreation Advisory Committee, of which she is a member.
McCoy proposed that in the short term the county replace the footing in the existing covered arena, install new fencing in that facility, and build an uncovered warm-up area.
Long-term, McCoy envisions two additional arenas with terraced seating, new stables, festival grounds, expanded parking, and EV charging stations.
The Recreational Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that they find funding for the short-term projects.
Lisa Davol, director, Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, told the Committee she is working on the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget request for her department and this is the kind of input she needs as she puts that request together.
Town Hall Meeting
At the Town Hall Meeting at the Civic Center on Nov. 16 of last year, McCoy was the second speaker who came to the microphone, and she said she had plans for Heritage Park, the 364-acre park running from U.S. 441 to the Apalachee River in the south of the county.
Prepared By Smith Planning Group
(Click To Enlarge)
“When my husband got out of the Army in 2016, we moved home and I started teaching and training horses full-time at my family's farm in south Oconee,” McCoy told the commissioners.
Her family runs Allison Creek Farm and Services on Watson Springs Road near the Greene County line.
“I kept having the same conversation with my friends: ‘Man, those trails are really nice at Heritage, but it's a pity about that arena. Someone should do something about it,’” McCoy said she was told.
“So I started to look. I didn't find one person. I found a whole community who wants something done,” she continued. “But I made a mistake.”
“I worry that I let you guys think it was just me that wants these, the safety and maintenance improvements,” she said. “You know, ‘that crazy horse girl is here again,’” she continued. “Maybe me and one or two others.”
“I've asked a few members of the community to come and just talk about their opinion and their thoughts,” she said.
McCoy was followed by 13 other speakers–out of the 18 who spoke that night–endorsing her plans.
Recreation Committee Meeting
McCoy told the commissioners at that meeting in November “I'm not here to give you all the details of the proposal now.”
Rather, she said, “We're working with director Davol and looking forward to presenting to the Rec Board in January.”
At the meeting on Tuesday, McCoy said she was not going to discuss the total concept plan for Heritage Park, which is still being developed, but only the equine improvements.
“Today we are only talking about making this facility safe for the horse people to use,” Davol agreed.
McCoy presented a concept plan prepared by Bob Smith of Smith Planning Group, 1022 Twelve Oaks Place east of Butler’s Crossing, and told the Committee that the arena and feeder barn shown on the plans were built in 1990.
“Why I am making recommendations to invest in Heritage Park is the arena is underutilized,” she said.
Inside the arena, the footing, or the tiny gravel on which the animals walk, needs regular grooming to make it safe for horses and other animals, McCoy told the Committee.
The arena also should have a fence between the concrete floor and the footing, according to McCoy.
Also needed is a warm-up arena, she said.
“Those are kind of the safety reasons that horse people don’t use it,” she said. This also applies to other agricultural groups, she added.
“This part of Georgia has a really thriving horse population,” McCoy said.
“The covered arena and the footing and the fence are already in the works,” McCoy said. “The horse community is already working toward raising money to contribute, and we’re working with Director Davol to find contractors and what not.”
“Today we’re mostly talking about the warmup arena,” she said.
“We’re trying to get a facility that is nice to help continue to draw horse people here,” McCoy added.
“The warm up arena is important for horse people to actually use the facility,” she said. “It is an important component to approve to facilitate actual horse use.”
During the nearly hour-long discussion of McCoy’s proposal, a variety of additional needs were discussed, including a second well, equipment, personnel, maintenance, and training.
|McCoy Before Recreation Advisory Committee|
The motion that was approved, according to Davol’s reading at the end of the vote, included only the footing, the fence, and the warm-up area.
“I think they want to know if you are supportive of moving in this direction,” Davol said in discussing the Committee vote. She was referring to the Board of Commissioners.
A variety of costs for the three approved parts of McCoy’s plan were discussed at the meeting.
In a telephone conversation on the afternoon of Jan. 20, McCoy said the replacement of the footing will cost between $35,000 and $50,000, the fence will cost between $7,800 and $11,000, and the warm-up area will cost between $50,000 and $100,000, based on estimates she has received.
McCoy said at the meeting she expects five to 10 events will be booked at the upgraded Heritage Park facility in the first year after the improvements and the number will increase in subsequent years.
McCoy is founder of Athens Area Horse Community, a business that seeks to grow the horse community within the Athens area, including Oconee County.
Davol On Heritage Park Plans
“That park is, I’ve said a million times, the hidden gem of the county,” Davol said of Heritage Park during the discussion of McCoy’s plans. “It is a beautiful park.”
|Existing Covered Arena|
“But in order to attract those events, all these various events, because they’re all a little different, they all have different wants and needs, there has to be a lot more resources brought into it to get it to a point where we could compete basically with other venues,” she said.
“With what Amanda is proposing to you all for the equestrian types of events in the covered arena, that phase I, is a stepping stone to get us moving in the direction for those events,” Davol continued.
“There are still other events and other user groups and interest groups that have a list that they would like to see also, which is why we’re trying to bring some other people to the table so that the updated concept plan is inclusive,” Davol said.
“We don’t want it to not include some other user groups,” she added. “But for what Amanda is looking for, those are the top three things to at least start to have some types of events out there and then hopefully build on them,” Davol said.
“I’m committed for this to be a multi-use facility,” McCoy added. “I’m fully aware that horse facilities cannot exist--public horse facilities cannot exist--just as horse facilities.”
“I know that. This is my home. This is my county,” she said. “I don’t want it to be just a horse facility anyway. I want there to be festivals and whatever out there.”
Town Hall Meeting
While the plans for Heritage Park dominated the Town Hall meeting in November, citizens raised a variety of other concerns as well.
One citizen, who did not identify himself, asked Commission Chair John Daniell, about the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir, located in Walton County but jointly owned by Oconee and Walton counties.
“How do we get out of this mess?” the citizen asked.
“We are part of Hard Labor Creek, and that decision was made way back,” Daniell said. “Walton County is in need of water, so they’re wanting to move forward with the treatment plant for the reservoir.”
For Oconee County, “It is more about drought coverage than anything,” he said. “We’re preceding forward cautiously.”
Jeff Hood asked if The Varsity was still coming to Oconee County on land near Hobby Lobby.
Daniell said “That is one of the most asked questions,” and the answer is that The Varsity still plans to come to the county, probably after it finishes its store in Bethlehem.
Both Hood and Sharen Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, asked about the plans for the Driver’s Services facility on SR 316 between McNutt Creek Road and Dials Mill Road.
Daniell said he expects work on the project to move quickly and that access in the short term will be off McNutt Creek Road.
“The state is still looking at all their options” for access once construction work gets underway on the SR 316 and Dials Mill Road and McNutt Creek Road interchanges, he said.
The first video below is of the Recreation Advisory Committee Meeting of Jan. 17.
I put the camera in the room and left, following the advice of my doctor due to my being severely immune compromised. Davol did adjust the camera to pick up McCoy’s slides.
McCoy began speaking at 0:46 in the video.
The second video is of the Town Hall Meeting of Nov. 16, 2022, and is on the county’s YouTube channel.
McCoy began speaking at 15:37 in the Town Hall video.
Discussion of Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir is at 55:28 in the video.
Hood asked his questions at 1:09:20 in the video and was followed by Thelen.