Equestrian Management Plan Complete

Will Rogers Ranch BrandThe Department has completed the Equestrian and Livestock Management Plan. The Plan contains guidelines and standards to govern equestrian activities at Will Rogers State Historic Park.  Rather than prescribing specific activities or programs, the Plan contains policies and criteria that will assist Park staff and managers in determining which equestrian activities ought to occur, and the manner in which they should be carried out.   

Read the Final Equestrian and Livestock Management Plan (pdf 476 kb).  

View Notice of Determination December 2006 (pdf 275 kb) and
Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) August 2006 (pdf 776 kb).  

Background on Equestrian Management Plan

Will Rogers (1879-1935)In November 2001, the Department “temporarily suspended” boarding of privately-owned horses, effective January 10, 2002. The suspension was brought about by concerns about erosion, water quality, and degradation of the historic Stable and other structures, much of which was attributed to the horse boarding operation. The suspension was to give the Department an opportunity to conduct detailed studies of the situation, make necessary repairs and undertake necessary restoration efforts, and begin planning for future equestrian use at the Park.

In 2001 and 2002,  the Department conducted a series of reports and evaluations of the conditions at the Park. Among these were a  “Resource and Management Issues” report; several historic structures reports; an Interpretive Strategy Report,  and an assessment of ecological conditions at the Park. 

In March 2003, the Department adopted a  Historic Landscape Management Plan, which contains policies and guidelines for restoring the Park to its appearance in the early 1930s.

Recent Controversy over Boarded Horses
In 2001, the controversy over boarding at the Park reached its peak:

  • In June 2001, an Issues Paper  by Randy Young, local historian and president of the Will Rogers Cooperating Association, presented detailed criticism of management of the park;

  • The family of Will Rogers expressed concerns that the Department’s operation of the park violated the terms of the grant deed;

  • Several newspaper articles described concerns about management of the historic resources of the park and the use conflicts with private boarding of horses (Pacific Palisades Palisadian-Post, August 16 and August 30; Wall Street Journal, September 6);

  • In August 2001, the Director of the Department met with the Rogers family to discuss their concerns; and

  • The Department’s Auditor reviewed the lessee’s compliance with the terms of the lease during the period from February 1, 2000 through April 30, 2001. The Auditor found that the lessee failed to comply substantially with the terms of the lease. For example, the lessee failed to keep separate books and records for the equestrian operation, and submitted invoices for payment of expenses without adequate documentation. In addition, the Auditor found that the Department failed to force compliance with the terms of the lease, and needed to establish ground-rules to cover areas where the lease was vague or silent. This included allowing private grooms to come into the park to work and allowing expenditures on equestrian-related  projects that are inconsistent with the General Plan.

In 2001, California State Parks reviewed the history of equestrian operations at WRSHP.In 2001, Department staff reviewed the history of equestrian operations at the Park. The intent was to determine whether equestrian operations as practiced helped to further the Department’s mission.  In September 2001, the team issued a report with their findings and recommendations: Resources and Management Issues at Will Rogers State Historic Park. The report recommended that Department should prepare an Equestrian Management Plan.

The findings of this report relevant to equestrian activities are summarized below.

  • Equestrian activities are valuable--and permissible under the GP--only to the extent that they serve the interpretive mission.

  • No equestrian operation should be contracted at the unit absent a clear definition of how it will serve the Department’s interpretive goals.

  • No equestrian operation should be contracted that includes inherent conflicts of interest with environmental regulatory processes or responsible management practices.

  • Horse boarding per se is not an essential function at this unit.

  • If boarding is continued, boarders should be made clearly and specifically aware that boarding is a privilege, and that it includes obligations of courtesy to park staff and the general public, and consideration for the historical resources.

  • If boarding is continued, the Department should consider giving preference to animals such as polo ponies that actively contribute to the interpretive mission.

  • Given equestrian activities at the unit, the Department has an obligation to provide safe conditions for horses and riders.

  • Horse boarding should be removed from Sarah’s Point, as should storage facilities, including the Pole Barn.

  • The Department should investigate how many horses can be maintained in Bone Canyon without environmental problems and visual impacts on the historic zone.

Equestrian Advisory Committee Report
The Department convened an Equestrian Advisory Committee, which met several times from February through August 2002. The Committee submitted its report in December 2002 and recommended that the Department:

  1. Develop an Equestrian Management Plan and allow the Committee to review the draft plan.

  2. Submit quarterly written reports to the Committee about activities in the Park.

  3. After the Equestrian Management Plan is adopted, the Department should submit written reports to the Committee about being taken to implement the Plan. These reports should be at 6 months and 1 year after adopting the Plan.