Washington State Horse Park opens near Cle Elum.

Share story

To Karen Bailey, the recently opened Washington State Horse Park near Cle Elum is more than just a place to saddle up her Arabian Appaloosa Khaloe.

It’s a portal to paradise.

A staging area to miles upon miles of wilderness, waterfalls, high-mountain meadows and reflective ponds.

“It’s something I wouldn’t get to see normally unless I had my horse there to share it with me,” said the 53-year-old Cle Elum resident.

Opened last month, the park in Cle Elum is a public-private partnership conceived 20 yeas ago.

The 112-acre park has an arena, stables, RV stalls, campground and miles of trails that wind through the pine-covered hills and ravines, open to the public anytime.

But the best part, Bailey said, is that all its trails connect to an outside network of other trails throughout the region, including some that lead to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and the Pacific Crest Trail.

“It’s just another way of just experiencing the beauty we have in this area,” said Bailey, who has lived in Cle Elum for 21 years.

The site offers a variety of equestrian activities, everything from barrel racing to vaulting and clinics to dressage. However, it will not host rodeos or horse races, according to the park’s website.

Horse enthusiasts and state Parks and Recreation Commission officials began looking for ground for a horse park in 1990. In 1995, the state Legislature formed the Washington State Horse Park Authority to find land and steer the development of an equestrian center.

Suncadia, the massive resort to the west, donated the land for the park to Cle Elum, which the city has leased to the authority for 99 years for $1 per year. The Legislature contributed $3.5 million in 2007 to pay for construction.

The authority, the governing body of the park, consists of board members appointed by the state governor, as well as representatives from the Parks and Recreation Commission. State Rep. Judy Warnick, whose 13th District covers the park, is a board member.

It’s funded by private donations and membership fees of the Washington State Horse Park Foundation.

Backers say the venue is geared to horses but could serve a variety of functions. They envision it accommodating art displays, fairs and car shows, while mountain bikers and hikers are allowed to use the trails.

Darrell Wallace, president of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, said environmental fears, private development and dwindling public-recreation money statewide has limited access to trails for horse and mule riders.

He said the park will help ensure access in a central location of the state.

“It’s addressing a lot of equestrian-related needs,” Wallace said. “The trail riding is just one of them.”

Bailey works as an operation and community standards manager for Suncadia but is the volunteer vice president of the park foundation and has been working on some of the in-park trails.

Before her efforts at the park kept her busy, she and her husband, Dana, a self-employed carpenter, hit the trails usually three out of four weekends a month, visiting Mount Adams, Alpine Lakes and other scenic destinations between. She’s a member of the Alpine Lakes Backcountry Horsemen.

The access will serve as an easy-to-reach trailhead that will be around for at least 99 years.

That’s long enough for her soon-to-be granddaughter to use them.

Her daughter, one of three adult children, is due to get married next fall. The fiancé has a 6-year-old daughter who is showing an interest in horses.

“If she enjoys it, she’ll be going out with grandma and grandpa,” Bailey said.