Over 1,700 Montgomery County residents have signed a petition as of this week asking the Montgomery National Capital Parks and Planning Commission to reconsider the Wheaton Regional Park Master Plan draft recommendations to potentially demolish the Wheaton Park Stables and repurpose the grounds.
Project manager Charles Kines said in a September virtual meeting that the facilities are nearly 60 years old and in need of a major refurbishment.
“We feel like there might be a point, a decision making point in the future, where a major public investment might be needed to keep this as an equestrian facility,” Kines said. “And when we reach that point, we feel like that’s an opportunity for us to rethink this 27 acre site.”
Immediate reactions from community members watching the meeting via Zoom showed unwavering support of keeping the stables.
The Master Plan’s short-term recommendations suggested improving the trails and continuing operations by the current tenant, Sancy Creecy, who runs the stables. Long-term solutions proposed investing public dollars to construct a different kind of community amenity altogether.
Drafted overhauls for the site by Kines included community gardens, additional recreational areas or the new site for Brookside Visitor and Nature Center.
The original 1987 Master Plan designated that Wheaton Regional Park land could be developed and repurposed to generate more revenue, as long as no more than one-third of park land is developed. The plan did not distinguish criteria between developed and undeveloped land.
“Frankly, they need to stop turning the last bit of green space in Montgomery County into more townhomes,” Montgomery County resident Gedalia Walls said. “I think it’s something worth saving somehow. The stables are an anchor to the area.”
“It’s kind of appalling,” life-long Montgomery County resident Shannon Chester said. “How does a soccer field contribute to being green?”
Wheaton Park Stables’ slogan “Where generations learn to ride” rings true for the community.
Billie Cooper first began riding at Wheaton Park Stables in 1976. She operated as a volunteer trail guide up until 2019. Cooper’s children and grandchildren have all learned to ride at the stables. Cooper calls the stables her “sanity restorer.”
The stables hold an equine therapy program for young adults and children with disabilities. Cooper said she has witnessed the impact the horses have had on participants firsthand.
Cooper told a story about a young boy whose parents had signed up for riding lessons. The boy used a wheelchair after losing ability in his legs from an automobile accident.
“At the end of the first session, he said, ‘I’m glad I had my accident, because otherwise I would have never gotten to know horses.’ That’s how much it means to some people,” Cooper said.
Wheaton Park Stables is a private business leasing public land. If the stables’ owner were to step away from the business, the open contract would allow the board to repurpose the land however they chose to.
“I don’t think the county needs a huge investment,” Cooper said. “It’s really nothing but four walls. All we have to do is put up four walls.”
Sandy Creecy, the current owner of the stables, has no plans of stepping away from the business, but thinks the community should still voice their support to prevent future action. “People might think that it’s down the road and it’s never going to happen, but I think we have to take this seriously,” Creecy said.
“The underlying sentiment of this is not that people don’t want soccer fields here or a new nature center here,” Creecy said. “People don’t want the stables to go anywhere. We want to be able to continue to provide what we have provided for generations in the past for future generations.”
The Wheaton Regional Park Master Plan is now in a period of public review. The board must hold a public hearing before officially adopting the plan. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.