Council saddles up for tour

NANAIMO: City council tours equestrian association facilities.

City councillors Fred Pattje and Diana Johnstone visit with Regan Helgeson on When Stars Collide at the Nanaimo Equestrian Assocation facilities at Beban Park.

City councillors Fred Pattje and Diana Johnstone visit with Regan Helgeson on When Stars Collide at the Nanaimo Equestrian Assocation facilities at Beban Park.

The Nanaimo Equestrian Association saddled up with a posse of young riders and handlers to show city officials the importance of its multipurpose facilities at Beban Park.

Mayor John Ruttan, and council members were invited by the association to attend an informal meeting and officiate at a medal ceremony and donation. In addition to the mayor, councillors Jim Kipp, Fred Pattje and Diana Johnstone attended.

With a 30-year history of providing space and accommodation for riders and horse enthusiasts, the NEA has had little contact with city officials. However, with the upcoming Beban Park Master Plan review, president Lesley Coultish and executive wanted to ensure council heard their voice.

“We’ve been silent partners with Beban Park,” said Coultish. “We felt it was time to make ourselves known.”

According to Coultish, the NEA is a financially stable, self-sufficient association with 35 members. It leases and manages property at Beban Park that includes Ring 2-4, the Agriplex Barn and two neighbouring long barns as well as the stalls.

“We maintain the grounds and facilities as best we can,” she said. “The ring surface was recently upgraded, improved drainage was added around the Agriplex Barn and we put in better washrooms.”

Though the VIEX rents the grounds during the exhibition, Coultish was clear that they were separate entities and took great care with safety and maintenance issues on their section.

Kipp, concerned about mobility and usage, suggested that NEA continue to dialogue with council and parks, recreation and culture.

“We’ve heard plenty from the VIEX, they understand how to lobby. Letting us know who you are and what you expect is a good thing,” said Kipp.

But awareness isn’t all the association were hoping for. Though financially autonomous, Coultish said her members and the other organizations they serve want a commitment and assurance the facility will be available for future use and events.

Pattje, interested in balancing the needs of all Nanaimo residents, questioned Coultish about the number of members the association served.

But that isn’t an easy question to answer. Not only do the members of the NEA use the grounds, but they are also rented and maintained for the Pumpkin Fest,  Nanaimo Toy Run, 4H Test Days, the VIEX, six- to eight-horse shows a year, the RCMP Musical Ride, weekly agility groups, Nanaimo Kennel Club events and in the past year, regional and national dog agility trials.

It’s hard to sum up all those numbers, said Coultish.

“More than 400 individuals use the facilities on a regular basis,” she said. “But that doesn’t include the support people and spectators.”

Before the meeting closed and the council members toured the property, Ruttan emphasized council’s responsibility to taxpayers and the need to ensure the public get the best bang for their buck.

“We get pressure from different groups so we always need to find a balance,” he said. “Having this meeting was overdue. Now you’re on our radar screen.”

With their current lease up for renewal soon, the association feels it’s vital to be involved in discussions about the future of Beban Park.

“We’ve successfully managed these facilities for 30 years,” Coultish said. “We want to continue to offer them to our community and promise in future to make ourselves heard.”