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Advocates for saving the Three Rivers mounted patrol said that in addition to providing public safety, the horses are used to teach kids in a handful of summer camps and special events.
One program called “Horsin’ Around” spends two to three hours letting kids meet the horses, tour the barn and learn how to be safe around animals.
McPhee said those programs served 63 people last year, and only at times when the horses were not being used for patrol. If there’s a public demand for horse-related programming, he said, the District could consider bringing in privately-owned animals and offering classes through its education department.
That idea is something that several Three Rivers commissioners said they plan to discuss in the future. They will also hold a public hearing on all aspects of the proposed 2014 operating budget, including elimination of the horse patrol, on Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. at District headquarters, 3000 Xenium Lane North in Plymouth. The budget is about 0.3 percent higher than 2013.
McPhee said that selling the horses, if approved, will not mean that Three Rivers police are abandoning security on the many miles trails in their parks. Nearly two dozen trained volunteers already ride their own horses in parks, he said, and they work with his office to provide safety. Shifting more responsibilities to the volunteers will “backfill” and free up his officers to do more work, McPhee said.
“Sometimes there’s popular programs that have to fall by the wayside,” he said. “There are fewer officers to go around, there’s 10.5 million visitors to the park system annually, and we have to put ourselves in places to do the most good.”
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388