Horse advocates raise big $

May 29, 2009
By

David Taber

City: Horses might not be best use of funds

Locally spearheaded fund-raising to save the horses of the Boston Park Rangers mounted unit have taken off at a gallop.

As the Gazette previously reported, the Jamaica Plain-based Emerald Necklace Conservancy is undertaking a private fundraising effort to support the Park Rangers mounted unit. The eight-horse unit, which is cared for by the rangers and costs about $86,000 a year to maintain, is slated to be disbanded in the coming fiscal year as part of an effort to close an over $130 million projected hole in the city budget.

The Conservancy, along with other non-profit park advocacy groups, including Friends of the Public Gardens and Friends of Post Office Square, has raised about 80 percent of the $250,000 it hopes contribute to the mounted unit, Conservancy Executive Director Julie Crockford told the Gazette.

Crockford said she has “every reason to believe [the city] is going to accept the money.”

Mayor’s Office spokesperson Dot Joyce had a lukewarm response to the private fundraising effort for the horses.

“Everyone loves horses including the mayor, but this is about using resources in the best way possible,” she said.

She said she appreciates donors’ generosity, but using the funds to hire more park rangers in the spring and summer and make sure there is a ranger presence throughout the city might be a more efficient use of the funds.

“If people are interested in safety and security inside the parks that would be much more helpful,” Joyce said.

But at least some local parks advocates say the horses are important for public safety.

“This is a violence prevention program. They don’t seem to grasp that this works,” said Jamaica Plain resi-dent and Arborway Coalition member Sam Sherwood.

“If you are in a park somewhere off the road and about to do a mugging or a drug deal, you are going to think twice” if you see a mounted ranger, said Sarah Freeman, another member of the Arborway Coalition.

Christina Poff, director of the Franklin Park Coalition previously told the Gazette that the presence of mounted officers has played a major role in deterring crime in that sprawling 485-acre park.

She said that the Boston Police Mounted Unit, also stabled in JP, was a huge help as well.

While police have more law enforcement authority than rangers, that 12-horse unit, which employed civilian care-takers for the horses, cost more than $400,000 annually to maintain. Sherwood pointed to that price tag was one reason fundraising efforts are focused on the rangers.

Joyce said the city will “continue to talk,” with the would-be donors.

A City Council Ways and Means hearing to discuss the city Parks and Recreation Department budget is sched-uled for June 4. Park Ranger mounted unit advocates are hosting a fund-raiser, with tickets starting at $100, on June 1. [See JP Agenda.]

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