The horses are coming

  • Wanda Smith at the site of the future horse ranch on Roblar Road.

What is planned to be the largest equestrian center on the West Coast, one of the largest and most environmentally friendly development projects ever in Sonoma County and a major boost to the North Bay economy is moving into the second step of a three-step journey to reality.

The non-profit planning to develop the California Equestrian Park & Event Center will hold a capital kick-off campaign event Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Draper Stables Reception Hall, 530 Irwin Lane, between Occidental and Hall roads in Santa Rosa.

"It is mainly to inform people about CEPEC, what is being planned and to get people to participate," explained Wanda Smith, CEPEC board president, executive director and driving force behind the project.

The project itself is panoramic in its scope, offering something for everything equine — arenas, a coliseum, eventing course, polo field, driving course, cattle pins, education center, museum and acres of riding trails.

Development has been broken down into three parts — planning, development and construction.

So far, planners are right on schedule, which called for planning to be completed by the end of this year.

Toughest part of the planning process was finding a location for the development. Needed was 1,000 acres that had to meet a whole list of horse-specific and environmental requirements. Smth's search turned up eight potential sites, and each was extensively examined and eventually evaluated using a mathematical formula that looked at close to 40 criteria. "We didn't chose a site based on subjective opinion. It was totally scientific," said Smith. "We did everything very objectively."

The planners finally decided on about 1,000 acres located off Roblar Road. The site is owned by several different property owners and Smith said CEPEC officials have already started contacting the owners and are optimistic that property can be obtained. Much of the property will be dedicated to open space and to mitigate for tiger salamander habitat that might be impacted.

Another key component of the planning process was a survey, conducted by Smith in person, at group meetings, by phone and online, to determine what horse people might want in an equestrian center.

"The top thing everyone asked for was a place where people could ride safely," Smith said. "They wanted trails where they could ride without fear of hurting themselves or their horses.

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