Local groups, including organizers of the annual Fair Hill International horse races, are working with Maryland's Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan to upgrade the horse racing facilities at Fair Hill in hopes of attracting a world-class equestrian competition.
The competition, known as a 4* [the abbreviation signifies a four star event, the most difficult level of competition governed by the Concours Complet International], is a three-day equestrian competition that includes dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. There are just six such events worldwide and the only other one in the United States is in Kentucky.
The main improvements would be made to the race track and the fair grounds, said Fair Hill Park Manager Rachel Temby. The track, built before World War II, and the grandstands need to be upgraded, she said.
"They are outdated and there's been a lot of deferred maintenance," Temby said. "The cost to maintain them now is significant. If we are going to continue to host large events and possibly host additional events, we need to enhance these areas."
State agencies and private partners will be planning how to improve the race track and supporting infrastructure this year, she said.
"The first step is to do preliminary engineering and feasibility studies," the park manager said. Participating in those studies will be the state departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture as well as Maryland's Sports Commission.
Improving the facility is vital to maintaining the growth of the state's equine industry, said Jim Steele, chairman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board.
"New economic data shows that the state's equine industry has grown 23 percent in the last five years and contributes $1.15 billion in annual economic activity," he said in a press release. "Improving equine facilities at Fair Hill is a vital part of this industry wide renaissance. We have to stay current and make sure our competition venues meet the needs of the equestrian community."
Attracting the 4* event would do that.
"We are excited by the possibility of hosting a 4* event," said Fair Hill International Executive Director Carla Geiersbach in a press release.
A coalition of local groups put together a proposal to have Fair Hill host a 4* event. The U.S. Equestrian Federation conducted site visits this past fall. The federation will probably make a final decision on a new 4* event site this year.
"Regardless of the outcome of the 4* proposal, there remains tremendous interest and support to upgrade Fair Hill's infrastructure for a variety of recreational uses," said Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm at the state and local levels to reinvest at Fair Hill," Temby said last week.
The Fair Hill 5,656-acre natural resources management area includes courses for steeplechase, flat racing, and timber course horse events. It also hosts the annual Cecil County Fair and a host of environmental programs.
Maryland bought the property in 1975 from the estate of William duPont Jr. duPont acquired the land for fox hunting and raising dairy and beef cattle on the property.