The rider on horseback is a rare sight on the Clarence bike path, but evidence from such visits is more common.
Some dog walkers, cyclists, line skaters, and other trail users say they don’t appreciate having to move around compost blocks.
“I think they should clean themselves up, like a dog,” Diane Showalter, who was walking the trail with her daughter, Ginger Lahti, said one recent morning.
“Just push her off the track,” Lahti agreed. “I mean, it’s organic. It’s great for grass. I carry a little shovel, and shove it all over the place.”
When someone from the town recently complained about this in a Facebook group — a note amplified by images of offending chaos — the post drew 189 comments in response, split between the pro and anti-horse crowds, exposing the tension between old Clarence and new Clarence, as agricultural heritage gives way to the past. Domain for yoga studios and brewing bars.
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The split ignites when the Town Board reviews an application to extend a sewer line to a new project, for example, or when Dollar General is proposing to open a store in Clarence Hollow.
“Whatever subject you want, people will line up at Clarence and discuss back and forth—the newcomers and the people who have lived there forever,” said Dave Hartzel, a former city superintendent, who noted that geese are another reliable hot topic in the city.
“It’s funny, because people move into the country to leave the populated areas. And then they go out into the country and try to change it to an urban area,” said Pam Armstrong, one of the owners of Maple Row Farm. The city’s riding facility, which said she laughs when someone from Clarence posts a fox sighting on social media.
The main Clarence Bike Trail, known as the Peanut Line Trail, runs along a former rail line from Transit Road east to the Newstead border and beyond.
Clarence officials say horseback riding on the road violates city law.
Bike path users say they occasionally see riders on horseback on the road. There are a few horse farms and stables within two miles of the track section between Strickler and Salt Road.
Hartzel said he uses the bike track two or three times a day as part of his triathlon training, but he grew up and still enjoys riding.
“It’s dangerous,” said the former supervisor of composting. “It gets slippery, and it’s big and all. So, you know, I think if you’re not willing to clean it up, you shouldn’t be riding on a peanut line.”
A visit to the track earlier this month found a collection of horse dung along one side of the track east of Strickler.
Not many trail users that morning were eager to share the trail with the horses and their litter.
“I don’t see a place for horses in now. It’s also–it’s very crowded. And that’s a big animal, you know?” Walking around with his dog, Bo, said Charlie Vesper, an Akita Shepherd mix.
Danielle Gerbitz walks the Peanut Line Trail about five days a week.
“I would panic if I was walking my dog and he was there, like horses coming to me,” said a Clarence Center resident. “We are very concerned about our dogs, and make sure we stay on one side if people come along. I don’t know how you would do that with a horse.”
Gerbitz said she also saw chickens roaming the bike path.
“So Clarence – anything goes,” she said with a laugh.
In an email, Parks Crowe President Jim Burchard said the borough code bars horses and their riders from all city parks, including bike paths, unless the city council grants special permission.
Burchard did not say how many, if any, complaints his department receives about horse riding or horse manure on the tracks.
But a critical post earlier this summer in the Clarence Community Group on Facebook sparked a lot of comments — far more than the original poster expected, she told The Buffalo News because she declined an interview request.
“As a regular user of the track, I see this too often to let it pass,” she wrote on July 9.
Some of the people who responded were outspoken against the horses, arguing that the trail was not made for them, that their manure was unhealthy and that children and other users should not maneuver around it.
There were other posters on the horses’ side, describing them as remnants of Clarence’s rural heritage. Others said yes to the horses, but pleaded with the riders to pick them up after them.
It’s not like catching a dog, of course, because horses don’t stop pooping.
Armstrong also noted that horse manure is good for the environment, because horses eat mainly hay and grain products, and they usually degrade quickly.
Several commentators have suggested that jockeys wear manure bags, or horse diapers, similar to those worn by horses at parades or on police patrol. However, Armstrong said horses need to be trained to wear these bags, and not everyone will tolerate it.
Although she suspected the jockeys were coming from her riding farm, she said she saw a place for everyone on the road, horses included.
“People ride their bikes, they run, they walk their dogs. It’s a multi-purpose trail,” Armstrong said.
Despite this and similar discussions, Clarence continues to change.
The city had more farms before the subdivisions encroached on them. In 2010, for example, 4,442 acres of land in Clarence were actively cultivated, which is an 11% decrease from just 10 years earlier.
City officials have made preserving this agricultural heritage a priority. Observers said that many who have moved to Clarence in recent years want a typical suburban experience.
“We don’t have a lot of farming,” said Bob Geiger, a city council member and active volunteer at Clarence. “But we’d love to see a tractor go on the road, see some cows along Salt Road, maybe along Clarence Center Road. But not a lot of them. It just disappears.”
Or, as Armstrong said, “I mean, Clarence, you know, it’s a beautiful city. It’s an attractive city. And if it’s built big, it’s going to turn into Amherst.”