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North Miami pony ride attraction remains in limbo

Heather Raimondi leads Troy Bennett around the ring at the Rocking-N-Ranch in the Enchanted Forest at Elaine Gordon Park, as Troy's friend, Tracy McKever, tries to reach out and touch him in this 2007 photo. The city of North Miami is seeking a new company to manage the ranch.
Heather Raimondi leads Troy Bennett around the ring at the Rocking-N-Ranch in the Enchanted Forest at Elaine Gordon Park, as Troy's friend, Tracy McKever, tries to reach out and touch him in this 2007 photo. The city of North Miami is seeking a new company to manage the ranch. MIAMI HERALD FILE

The park that brought generations of children joy and created lasting memories through its pony rides has been mostly unused for months while the horses, their owners and two groups wait for a decision by North Miami’s city leaders.

The Rock-N-Ranch pony rides, housed at Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park, 1725 NE 135th St., were halted in April when Shirley Chance, the decades-long owner of the ranch, lost her lease after the city said she failed to comply with code requirements.

Code-enforcement officers and a veterinarian had told her to keep a more-detailed log of stable cleanings and to board just one horse per stall, but said she did not follow their recommendations.

Since then, at least two groups have come forward with proposals to bring the pony rides back, both claiming support from Chance. The Enchanted Stables group and the Family Ranch are hoping things move forward, but have not been able to see eye-to-eye through the process.

Family Ranch was on the verge of receiving a bid to take over the pony rides at the park at the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, but the council pulled the staff recommendation after discussing it and hearing from former Mayor Frank Wolland, an attorney representing the Enchanted Stables group.

“When Mrs. Chance left I said, ‘Here’s an opportunity to do something really special for the kids in our city,’” Wolland said at the meeting.

At the council’s Oct. 14 meeting, dozens of supporters of the Family Ranch spoke during public comment, many of them tearfully recalling their memories of the ranch. Since then the bid has been under a “cone of silence,” the Miami-Dade County ordinance preventing communication with potential consultants during the request-for-proposals period. It is lifted when the city manager makes his recommendation to the commission.

Xelene Martinez, a Miami Dade College student and former volunteer at the ranch, said the waiting has been tough for her and the other former volunteers. They have moved five of the horses that used to be boarded at Elaine Gordon Park to a ranch in Davie. She said its been costly and has taken away the experience of working with children.

“Up here it’s just privately boarding. We don’t have a time to be with the kids,” Martinez said. “It’s just you and the horse. We don’t get the same response.”

Linda Brickman, the ranch’s owner, said she is willing to work with Martinez and the other volunteers for as long as they need, but recognizes the difficulty in raising and boarding horses in South Florida — especially for the volunteers, who are mostly teenagers.

“I know it’s harder for them since they live in North Miami,” Brickman said. “It is quite an ordeal to take care of a horse.”

The city said it wants the park to be used for pony rides as it had been for decades, and it has spent about $20,000 keeping it in compliance with city codes.

Enchanted Stables initially proposed a $500 monthly payment and a 7 percent share of monthly sales. The Family Ranch offered the same monthly payment plus a 10 percent share of sales.

Wolland has pointed out that one difference between the groups is that Enchanted Stables was incorporated as a domestic nonprofit organization while Family Ranch is for-profit.

“We are a not-for-profit and we don’t intend to make money off of this,” Wolland said. “We consider the stable to be something there for the whole community.”

Martinez said that even with that distinction most of the money the group makes goes directly to taking care of the horses and supporting the volunteers. Even under Chance’s leadership, the ranch charged visitors only about $3 a ride.

“I think because [the park] doesn’t create a lot of revenue for [the city], I think they aren’t making it a priority,” Martinez said.

Despite that difference, both sides agree that ultimately having some kind of pony rides is the most important thing for the city. Currently, the site at Elaine Gordon Park remains unused — with a sign saying the stables are closed for renovation and asking patrons to call the city’s parks and recreation department for more information.

“If it’s us or if it’s not us, we just want an answer,” Martinez said.

At the initial meeting where the bid was removed, Councilman Scott Galvin said that action needed to be taken soon.

“We don’t want people to lose the idea that this a place that they can come for pony rides, nor do we want the stables to deteriorate,” Galvin said at the September meeting.

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