Tell Rhode Island DEM to let our kids run at Goddard!
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Dear Director Coit,
We respectfully ask that you help to resolve a conflict between hundreds of Rhode Island families and the management of Goddard Park. The issue: current park management has refused to allow cross country teams from across the state to practice in the park during non-peak hours, with or without a permit.
Goddard Park is a beautiful and safe setting for youth on middle and high school cross country teams to safely practice their sport. For many years runners have co-existed peacefully with other park users, utilizing Goddard’s waterfront trail system early in the morning when usage is low. However, since 2015 park staff have harassed runners, parents and coaches. This harassment, which has been documented, has included intimidation, willful dissemination of false information and refusal to treat running groups fairly. Consider:
(1) In 2016 park staff handed out a typed letter, all but eliminating the opportunity for cross country teams to practice in the park “due to the increasing conflict between runners and horses.” The letter also noted “The trails were deeded to the State with the stipulation that their main use would be for equestrian activities.”
(2) Based on an examination of the deed, obtained from the Warwick Town Hall, there is no mention of, nor priority give to, equestrian use. In fact, the deed clearly states that activities in the park are to be free to the public. Why then is a private company -- C&L Stables -- which charges up to $60 for a ride on “our 18 miles of trails”[i] given priority access to the trail system? The trails are not theirs; they belong to all Rhode Islanders and this tiny fraction of park users is being given grossly disproportionate access. This unjustified access is neither in the public interest, nor in alignment with the park’s deed.
(3) Equestrian riders account for less than 1/10th of one percent of park users. If equines are included in the computation, the percentage would increase to 1/5th of one percent, though it is not clear whether the horses themselves are considered “park users.”
(4) In July, 2017 a cross country coach was presented with a ticket in the amount of $2,103.25 from a DEM park ranger because the girls on his team were training on the park’s trail system without a permit. The coach was threatened with arrest for being “confrontational” -- video and first-person accounts of the incident clearly show the coach acting deferentially to the officer and simply asking questions. The fine was later reduced to $203.25 with no explanation.
(5) In September 2017 the DEM denied a permit request for 80 high school runners from North Kingstown to train in the park on several Saturdays mornings, between 8-10am, on trails not used by equestrian users. A written statement explaining the reasons for the denial was requested but has not been received to date.
We -- concerned parents, students, coaches and community members in Rhode Island -- urge you to use your influence and authority to ensure that our children are treated fairly. We urge the DEM to allow our children and their teams the same access and due process that other groups and users of the park are afforded. Surely there is a way for hundreds of youth to co-exist peacefully with the few horse enthusiasts (and the company that profits from the use of this public resource) who would also like to use the park.
Given that the “Notice of Policy Change” letter distributed in 2016 stated “The Division attempts to provide recreational opportunities for many different user groups, however providing a safe environment for all patrons is paramount in our decision ...” we request an opportunity to negotiate with the DEM in a timely and transparent manner. Our cross country season ends in November and we ask the agency to reverse its discriminatory and baseless policy as soon as possible so that RI youth are not denied access to this public facility.
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