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Mounted patrol may ride through Geer, Carpenter parks

Parks officials plan to post signs near Geer
Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ted Holland lets third-graders at Kemper Elementary sit in the saddle of one of the office’s mounted patrol horses earlier this year.

Two members of the new Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office mounted patrol team visited the Cortez Parks, Recreation and Forestry Advisory Board on Friday to ask for permission to ride through the city’s natural areas.

At the board meeting, Sgt. Ed Oxley and Detective Yvonne McClellan said being able to ride through the Carpenter and Geer Natural Areas would give them more space for training. Although deputies are allowed to patrol anywhere in Cortez, some Parks and Recreation board members questioned whether allowing horses on land designated for bikes and hikers would cause problems with the parks’ usual visitors. But the deputies said they would not use the bike trails and would try to mitigate their impact on cyclists.

Parks and Recreation Director Dean Palmquist said he had met with Keith Evans, who owns much of the land near the entrances to the two parks, and had received a nod of approval for the deputies. But right now, horses are not allowed in the parks, and some board members said they were worried other horse owners might think the park was open to them if they saw deputies riding there.

“Because this is designated ‘no horses’ to begin with, the perception of people riding horses ... you might have a ‘You guys are allowed, but we’re not?’ kind of thing,” board chairman Paul Adams said. “That’s just a perception that we need to be aware of.”

Oxley and McClellan said they would wear uniforms and badges when they used the trails, as they usually do when on patrol. Oxley suggested putting a sign near the parking lots saying the area was under patrol by mounted officers, and several board members, including Adams, agreed with the suggestion.

The deputies also showed the board a map of their planned route through the parks, which would be a separate trail from those used by hikers and bikers.

“We may cut through the middle, but we will stay off the trails,” McClellan said. “We will not ride the bike trails under any circumstances.”

She said access to the parks would help the sheriff’s office, since right now the only open areas where mounted patrol officers can train are in the Dolores area, where horses have to be transported after the officers’ regular shifts. Having a nearby training area would save time, she said.

Palmquist said he would give official permission to the deputies to use Carpenter and Geer for training, and thanked them for coming to the board.

“I appreciate your willingness to approach us on this,” he said.

Adams and several other board members emphasized that they have no plans to open the natural areas to civilian riders.

The board members also discussed several capital projects they hope to complete next year, including some projects started in 2017 such as the new pickleball courts in Centennial Park. They agreed not to seek a replacement for Rachel Medina, who was recently appointed to the Cortez Planning and Zoning Commission. She said she would recuse herself from the commission if faced with a vote that would affect the parks department.

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