Monday, June 28, 2010

Currituck to Consider Moratorium on Wild Horse Tours


As someone who spending every working day in the off-road area and works at a "stop on the tour", I am glad to see a review of policy on this. Hopefully a practical solution can be explored and realized. Below is an article from Jeff Hampton of the VA Pilot:

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 27, 2010

Currituck County may limit tours to see wild horses, one of the biggest attractions on the Outer Banks.

So far this summer, eight companies with 45 vehicles carrying as many as 324 people are operating under the county's new permit system.

Another company with two 52-person capacity monster buses also seeks a permit.

Permitted tour businesses include a golf cart tour in Corolla, two kayak tours along the Currituck Sound shoreline, and two Segway tours - one in Corolla and one in the four-wheel-drive area.

"We are having a difficult time permitting and enforcing all these tours up there," said Ben Woody, director of the Currituck County Planning Department. "It is getting a little overwhelming."

Commissioners are considering a moratorium on new horse tours.

"We want some time to look at it," said Commissioner Vance Aydlett. "We want to take a look at the number of people and the number of vehicles."

The Currituck Outer Banks is among the few places where people can see wild horses roaming along the dunes.

The herd totals about 100 horses, but they typically travel in small groups. A stallion and a few mares can show up on the beach and attract a hundred people in moments.

Tour companies ride up the beach a few miles before crossing the dunes onto the rough unpaved roads that run through the neighborhoods.

Over the years, approximately 100 permanent residents have complained of speeding, noise, trespassing and harassment of the horses.

The county has attempted to write ordinances that balance the complaints with the demand for seeing the horses, the unique attraction that separates it from the Dare County beaches. Wild horses are featured on the county website and in tourism literature.

"At least they are guided now," said resident Kimberlee Hoey. "That helps, because you don't have as many wild cowboys driving around."

The market controls some of the problem, said Richard Brown, owner of Wild Horse Adventure Tours, the largest tour company there.

"There are only so many customers," Brown said. "If they don't give customers what they want, they're not going to stay in business anyway."

On Monday, the Board of Commissioners turned down a request by a Carova couple to operate an airboat tour along the Currituck shoreline.

Residents there opposed the tours, and both the planning board and planning staff recommended denial. Noise, safety and turbidity in the water were among the objections. The tour would have operated from a residential area on Teal Road in Carova along a canal.

"I have no problem with the tour," Aydlett said. "It's just the place."

But owners David and Polly McMillan said the denial was arbitrary and wrong. As they progressed through the permit process, the McMillans complied with every request, Polly McMillan said.

A noise test taken by a Currituck County deputy from 25 feet showed the boat put out 61 decibels idling and 70 decibels when under way. At 50 feet, the engine put out 84 decibels at high speed from feet 50 away. A vacuum cleaner measures about 70 decibels, according to a chart by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

An airboat engine is above water and creates less turbidity than a motor boat, David McMillan said. Regarding the commercial activity in a home district, many other small businesses operate within Carova, he said.

"I'm not asking for something special," McMillan said. "I just want equal treatment. We've put a whole lot of work into this. It kind of destroys your faith in the system."

New permit requirements, first mandated this year, mostly control wild horse tours. Companies must have adequate parking at their base. A guide certified by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund must lead the tour. Each vehicle must have an identification sign on it. Permits must be renewed each year. Violators will be subject to a fine up to $500.

Despite the limits, the horse tour business is thriving this year. Bookings are already what they would normally be in peak weeks in July, Brown said. He typically runs five lead vehicles and five "tag-along" vehicles carrying up to 65 people. He started this business four years ago with two old vehicles.

In the parking lot just before a tour began, Wild Horse Adventure Tours guide Jeremy Winegardner explained some of the rules: Avoid the large mud holes in the unpaved roads, stay out of the ocean surf and stay 100 feet from the wild horses. The county ordinance says 50 feet, but Brown's guides are told to double that distance.

William and Tena Bishop, of Hickory, N.C., listened carefully. Celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, the Bishops were here to see wild horses.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," she said.