Vashon's long-sought equestrian covered arena is nearly at hand

Suzanne Beaudoin rides her white gelding Guiseppi as Carol Friend on her filly Ellie follow. The two are riding in the fenced arena that will be covered once designs are approved. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Suzanne Beaudoin rides her white gelding Guiseppi as Carol Friend on her filly Ellie follow. The two are riding in the fenced arena that will be covered once designs are approved.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

After years of dreaming and planning, the Vashon equestrian community is months away from creating a public covered riding arena.

It’s long been a hope of the Island’s horse community to have a place safe from the rain where events, clinics and lessons could take place.

And thanks to a $150,000 anonymous donation last month — nearly a quarter of the construction project’s budget — the riding community is just one permit and a few fundraisers away from seeing its vision materialize, a vision that had seemed all but intangible months ago.

“It truly is a dream come true,” said Sharon Danielson, Vashon-Maury Island Horse Association’s membership chair. “It’s unbelievable.”

The construction of the covered arena at Paradise Ridge Park has been held off for a year while King County Department of Development and Environmental Services processed the project’s permit applications. And in that year, steel and concrete prices skyrocketed, leading to an almost 50 percent increase in the project’s budget and causing some to fear the arena at the 43-acre former Nike missile site would never be constructed.

And now, the arena’s designs are just weeks away from receiving final county approval.

“It’s on someone’s desk waiting for review, and after he blesses it, it goes for one last quality control check — another set of eyes,” said Carol Friend, president of the horse association.

When King County signs off on the proposed project, the final project costs will be recalculated based on today’s steel and concrete prices, which are lower than when the project’s budget of $664,101 was calculated in August.

Officials said they hope to finalize the project’s designs and order the steel to construct the covering by the end of this year. Once the steel is ordered, it will take six weeks for the pieces to be fabricated, a week for delivery to Vashon and about two weeks for the structure to be erected, said Janet Quimby, a former president of the horse association who has been active in the arena planning process.

After November’s hefty anonymous donation, the group has secured $620,000 — $85,000 of which came from grants, and the rest from donations and fundraising. The association has nearly enough money, even at peak prices, to cover the construction of the 110-by-220 feet, regulation-size steel covering that will go over the existing fenced arena area at Paradise Ridge. The group hopes to raise $45,000 more to cover the project’s costs and a contingency fund in case there is an unforeseen cost, Friend said.

The open-sided structure will be made entirely of steel, Friend said. Lighting will be installed to allow night-time use, and temporary bleachers will be set up outside the structure once it’s erected.

Friend is looking forward to the time when any Islander with a horse can ride, regardless of the weather. There are only a couple private covered arenas on the Island, and their use is limited, she said.

“Then, we can really entertain the idea of having some bigger-type clinics and draw bigger-name clinicians, when we have a venue that suits that,” Friend said. “And when we hold events up there, when it rains, it won’t matter so much.”

For as long as the Vashon-Maury Island Horse Association has existed, about 14 years, 10 percent of the proceeds from its fundraisers and from events held at Paradise Ridge has been tucked away into the “covered arena dream fund,” Danielson said. She estimated there are more than 400 riders on Vashon and at least 1,000 horses, based on the Island Riders e-mail list she manages for the horse association.

“We started this savings account, and it was puny, but it was the dream to ultimately have a covered arena,” said Char Phillips, former president of the horse association. “It was a dream 25 years ago to have our own covered arena here on the Island for anybody to use.”

Islander Lori Anderson began fundraising for the covered arena four years ago, when the horse association held a benefit dinner at the Sportsmen’s Club. The event raised $40,000.

“Then people who kept saying, ‘We can’t do this,’ thought, ‘Maybe we can,’” Anderson said. And the donations came pouring in.

Former Islander Tom Stewart, a rider and the owner of Misty Isle Farms, pledged $220,000 to the arena project three years ago — half the project’s budget at the time.

The horse community rallied to raise the other half, holding quilt raffles, saving up Thriftway receipts for 1 percent dividend returns and turning over instructor fees to the arena fund.

“People just did every little thing they could think of to bring in $1 here, $10 here, $100 here, to build up a fund to do this,” Anderson said.

Suzanne Beaudoin, a neighbor of Anderson’s, recalled the ways the association has raised money for the arena covering.

“We had auctions, dinners, trail rides — every kind of fundraiser we could imagine,” she said.

In March 2007, the group had raised more than the $455,000 it had budgeted for the project.

Then, it applied for building permits and was met with the challenge that faces many who hope to build in King County — the permitting process. As the group submitted one permit application after another, and the county required changes or reviews to many of them, the prices of steel and concrete skyrocketed, Quimby said.

One particularly agonizing county decision was its initial declaration that the steel covered arena would need sprinklers, she said.

It took months before the county reconsidered its decision and allowed the project to forgo the sprinkler requirement, based on the fact that the structure is all steel, will not have a place for people to assemble and will hold no storage, Quimby said.

Facing mounting materials costs, the project seemed all but stalled this fall.

“This year has really been a challenge, with the economy like it is,” Friend said. “Had it not been for that, we would have started construction before now.”

Luckily, she said, an anonymous donor on the Island stepped in at the end of November, pledging enough to cover the building costs at peak prices.

“They just didn’t want this to slip away,” Friend said.

The arena will be open to other groups, not just the equestrian community, she said. Users will be able to reserve the space in advance during certain times, while other times will be open.

“Dog agility is really big here,” Danielson said, so canines and their trainers will likely be able to use the arena once it’s completed. “You could set up a jump course in there.”

Guide dog training, cattle herding and cattle roping are other possible uses for the arena, she added.

Riders agreed that it’s good to be nearing the project’s completion.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying the peacefulness as it looks like we’re going to be able to do it,” Anderson said. “It was looking like we were done a few months ago when steel prices were so high, and we couldn’t do anything while we were waiting for the permit.”

Mary O’Brien, a longtime rider and member of Paradise Ridge’s stewardship group, said she too is eagerly anticipating the project’s realization, but she’s handling it a bit differently.

“It’s been a long project and it’s been a lot of work, so we have our fingers crossed,” she said. “Keep your fingers crossed for us. Until you see the structure there, you’re still worrying.”

Fundraising dinner

The Vashon-Maury Island Horse Association will hold a fundraising dinner for the covered arena at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, at the Eagles Club. Tickets, $25, are available at VI Horse Supply.

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