The dispute between whether or not horses will be allowed on Houchin Ferry Road continued today at Edmonson County Fiscal Court as Kevin Davis, owner of Mammoth Cave Horse Camp returned to court to request the passing of a resolution that says the county recognizes horse traffic as part of normal road usage.
While the resolution passed, it means nothing immediately with regards to the park's current law that states horses are not allowed on park roads.
Mr. Davis spoke to the court again before a vote was called for on the resolution.
"I would just like to respectfully remind you that you were elected by the people of Edmonson County to represent the interest of the people of Edmonson County, and the businesses in Edmonson County, not the interest of the National Park Service," he said.
Davis led a discussion at the last meeting where he said the road was first closed “illegally” to horses and riders in 2010, despite a resolution passed by the county in 1945 that said the road would always remain available to the public for normal use. Davis said the first closure came under the direction of former MCNP Superintendent Patrick Reed.
“He did it with no warning, no public comment, no input from anybody,” said Davis at the last meeting. “What this did, in effect, when he closed that road, was he took away two significant loop trails which were parts of the back-country trail system.”
Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Barclay Tremble was also in attendance at today's meeting and was asked by Judge Wil Cannon if he had any comments. Supt. Tremble read a prepared a statement to the court. He said the main purpose of the statement was to discuss the current status of the road as well as the park's legal interpretation of the use of the road. He also said he first heard about a possible county ordinance discussing the usage of the road in the original Edmonson Voice article published on September 10, 2018.
In the statement, he said he wanted to be very proactive in working alongside with Edmonson County Fiscal Court, the local chamber and tourism commission, as well as Mr. Davis and the horse camp, however, he clarified a portion of federal code by saying, "Per the 36 Code of Federal Regulations, equestrian use has been prohibited on all national park roads since 1938, which is prior to the park's establishment in 1941."
"It is also not accurate to state that Houchin Ferry Road was closed to horse use in 2010," he continued. "It is not accurate to state that this road is part of the park's trail system. The park's 85-mile trail system is separately managed from the park's road system."
Supt. Tremble said prior to 2010, there was very little horse usage on the road and that enforcement of the existing law was rarely needed; however, since the opening of the horse camp, horse traffic significantly increased which prompted better enforcement of the existing law.
"The statement that certain roads inside the national park shall remain open for the usual use of the public was a unilateral promise that was made by the national park service," said Tremble. "Contrary to other descriptions given to this proceedings over the years, the promise was not a court order, it was not a settlement, it was not an agreement, it was not a condition on the title of the land, it was not initiated by the county or the Commonwealth. It is a unilateral promise made by the United States government."
Tremble went on to say that the park has gone to great lengths to work with the horse camp to explain what they can and cannot do in the national park.
"I can imagine a possible alternative, determined through the public process, that would reference changing the road designation that would allow for vehicle, bicycle, and equestrian use," he said. "Before that designation could be changed though, we would seek concurrence from this court, that the change would align with the promise made by the NPS many years ago."
Judge Executive Wil Cannon said that his wish was that all roads in Edmonson County would be accessible to all traffic types, whether vehicle, bicycle, or horse use; however, any resolution that the county would pass would have no immediate bearing on whether or not horse traffic could be allowed on a road within the national park. He said he didn't want people to read in the news that a resolution had passed and that be misinterpreted as now horse usage had become legal on national park roads, because that would not be the case. He said the county's definition of what 'normal usage' of the road would be wouldn't matter to the park service.
Magistrate Clark Wood asked County Attorney Greg Vincent for his input on the situation. Vincent said he took issue with some of the things stated by Superintendent Tremble.
"I have no reason to doubt you when you say it would be your intention to want to keep this open for the public use," Vincent said to Tremble. "But I've heard this said now from about five different superintendents during just my few years as County Attorney. I've seen road closed, after road closed, after road closed, and I know many roads that are on that list because I have a full set of papers from that lawsuit that were listed to be kept open for the usual use, and they're gated. They're barred, and that's definitely not the usual use. So, nothing personal against you, sir, but when I hear someone from the federal government and the park service tell me that we want to keep this open for the usual use, to me, that usually means there's going to be a gate put up across it."
Vincent also went on to say that he took issue with Tremble's repeated statement that it was "a unilateral promise."
"No it's not," said Vincent. "As an attorney who deals with contracts, who deals with deeds and lawsuits; when it's put into a judgement, it's not a promise of one party to do something. When a judge signs it, it's an order, it's a requirement."
Magistrate Edd Rich said he felt like it would be advantageous for the county to agree to an ordinance defining the normal use of the road so that Superintendent Barclay could relay that back to the park service. Tremble said he was certainly open to that, but that there where several other road users that were against the horse usage and that park rules and regulations are written and enforced for the betterment of all users of the park, not just specific interests.
After the discussion continued, Magistrate Johnny Brooks made the motion to accept the resolution defining regular use of the road to include horse traffic, which was seconded by Magistrate Joe Durbin. The motion passed; however, horse traffic is still prohibited on Houchin Ferry Road. This resolution only states that Edmonson County Fiscal Court opinion is that "the historical use is the logical definition of the usual use, and that the historical use in 1945 was by automobiles, animal drawn wagons, horseback riders, bicycles and pedestrians."
The passing of the motion does not change the dispute between Mammoth Cave Horse Camp and the park service. It is unknown if and when a resolution between the two will occur.