A rider from Denison, noted that she and her fellow members of the Arabian Horse Society of Iowa are "very happy to find a place to ride." The Denison group spent the afternoon in the park, while others, from Gilmore City, Spencer and Lake Park, staked out campsites to spend the night. Local horseman Duane Heschke surveyed the new public land from the shade of his horse trailer and proclaimed it a "goldmine" of opportunity for the county park system. Large trailers were able to park on the newly acquired 78-acre addition to Martin's Access, while smaller trailers found plenty of space in the established areas of the park.
Over 30 riders on Saturday enjoyed a two-hour jaunt through trail areas re-opened to horses in 2007 as well as new lengths of dirt trail cleared this spring in the timber and fields of the new addition. Several water crossings, often dry stream beds this time of year, challenged riders with water-shy mounts, while a few trails normally too wet for horse traffic were dry enough to provide a shady new route. County Conservation Director Ginger Walker was on horseback to help lead the way.
The event was planned months ago by members of the Cherokee Arena Committee and County Conservation staff. Originally scheduled for Memorial Day weekend to coincide with Cherokee Rodeo events, the ride was postponed due to inclement weather. In the interim, a new sponsor, Livestock Production Center in Marcus, joined the team, represented by Sheila Letsche, a regular visitor to the park and a Purina Mills Lifestyle Consultant. Sheila contributed her enthusiasm for public equestrian facilities, and she also supplied door prizes, nutritional consultation and a generous contribution of funds to the event.
Riders and their families, as well as visitors who stopped by without their horses, were treated to a cook-out Saturday evening. Cherokee County Beef Producers did the grilling, while food was provided by Tyson Retail Deli and HyVee Food Store. Event planners rounded out the offerings with an array of toppings for hot dogs and bars for dessert. Entertainment planned for Saturday was delayed until Sunday morning when acoustic guitar strumming and singing accompanied a potluck breakfast shared by campers and early arrivals for a Sunday morning trail ride. Local rider Dee Nelson of Aurelia remembered riding the trails at Martin's as a teenager as she headed out with the group on Sunday to enjoy them with a few more years under her belt.
"Hosting an event like this helps us determine whether we're on track, what improvements we need to make and what the potential is for our park," Walker explained this week, "The sky is the limit when we have so many people excited about this project. We're going to have fun building a place that gives lots of people a reason to come enjoy the outdoors in Cherokee County."