Monday, July 29, 2013

Wild Horse Tours subject to new rules (Reprint by Request)

Currituck revises rules for horse-tour operations Corolla wild horse tours did very well this year and is a major economic engine for Currituck County, N.C., but complaints about too many vehicles on the beach and in the area are still coming in. County commissioners are looking at new restrictions that will limit the number of vehicle and hours of operation. (By Jeff Hampton The Virginian-Pilot © January 9, 2013 CURRITUCK, N.C. After three years of debate and public input, Currituck County commissioners this week approved a new ordinance that will rein in the long rows of tourist-filled Jeeps rolling through the Currituck Outer Banks beach in search of wild horses. The ordinance will: -- Cap the number of tour operators at the 10 already in business. -- Require each operator to buy a license renewed annually at a cost of $950 per vehicle. -- Limit tour operators to five vehicles. Those who own fewer than five cannot expand. The total number will drop to 32 from 48. -- Outlaw the use of buses for tours. -- Limit tour hours to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. west of the dunes. Although the fee is high, horse-tour operators generally support the new law, said Jay Bender, owner of Corolla Outback Adventures, which has a fleet of more than five vehicles. "By and large, this is a good thing," Bender said. "It was inevitable it was going to be needed." The new ordinance takes effect immediately. Previously, horse-tour businesses had to get a county permit to operate, but there was no fee, and their fleet size was limited only by the amount of parking they had. License revenue will raise $30,400 annually for administrative costs, as well as park and road maintenance within the four-wheel-drive communities. "I think we've done our homework on this," said Currituck County Commissioner Vance Aydlett. "I feel good about it." Tour operators must follow the longstanding rules as well, including the 15 mph speed limit when driving within 300 feet of people. They and customers must remain at least 50 feet from a wild horse. Operators who get cited for two or more violations in 30 days will have to shut down for three days. Five citations in 30 days will mean a 10-day suspension, and 10 or more citations will lead to license revocation. One suspension could cost a lot of money. A company with five vehicles, each with a capacity of 14 customers, would typically charge $35 a customer per trip and could run five trips a day. A three-day suspension would result in more than $36,000 in lost ticket revenue. "I believe that is severe enough," Aydlett said. About 120 horses roam north of Corolla on a strip of beach about 12 miles long and a mile wide. The herd naturally divides itself into smaller groups of a few mares and foals led by a stallion and can be seen grazing in the meadows, walking along the dunes and even standing in the shade of a multimillion-dollar oceanfront home. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund oversees the health and safety of the herd. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the number of tours grew. Tour drivers were often accused of going too fast along the criss-crossing sandy roads, making the numerous pond-size potholes even worse. Residents complained that tourists would get too close to the wild horses, in some cases putting small children on the animals' backs. Officials, residents and even some tour operators called for more restrictions. Wild-horse tours in Corolla attract about 3,000 people a day during the summer. Last year, North Carolina tourism officials highlighted the wild herd in its national advertisements. Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159,