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Horse-track enthusiasts plan protest

PAYSON — Angry residents opposed to the city plan to tear out the historic horse racing track plan to protest Wednesday in front of City Hall.

Protesters plan to continue their protest during the regular City Council meeting later that evening, said organizer Gordon Taylor, a former Payson mayor.

"I can promise you the council meeting will be interesting," Taylor told the Deseret News.

Organizers are calling city residents and inviting them to attend. They are also calling the media.

"We don't like the way some council members handled the issue," Taylor said. Protesters charge that the decision to remove the track was made without a public hearing. Residents were allowed to make comments at a recent meeting, although it was not a formal hearing.

Taylor is not sure how many will show up. "It could be anywhere from 10 to 1,000," he said. But he noted about 500 people in the town of about 15,000 have signed petitions opposing the council action.

The council voted 3-2 last August to replace the track with swimming and softball complexes. Council members Jan Tanner, Colleen Jacobson and Max Roberts favor replacing the track with a new recreation center, while council members Bertis Bills and Brad Daley were opposed. Subsequent attempts to put the issue on the November ballot have failed.

Not all horse racing enthusiasts oppose the project.

"Gordon Taylor's on his own with his little protest," said Ron Eakins, Payson Racing Association president.

Eakins' group has negotiated a 4 1/2-year lease with the city to keep a series of stalls at the current site along with a smaller training track that will be available for public use. Eakins called it an agreement "of survival."

The city eventually plans to replace the smaller track with another softball complex. Eakins' group hopes it can find a new site by then.

"This is sort of like camping out," he said of plans to build a smaller training track.

Horse racing enthusiasts, who have been boarding and training racing steeds at the track for decades, were put on a month-to-month rental basis last October for use of the existing stalls while the recreation center is designed and built. Champion race horses, particularly quarter horses, thoroughbreds and Appaloosas train at the track.

Over the years, local equestrians built the stalls at the track, financing them independently of the city, although they are on city property.

Members of the Chariot Racing Association and Cocklebur Riding Club said they will join the protest, mainly because they oppose the extension of 800 South through the old track and a roundabout the city wants for traffic control.

"We're behind Gordon (Taylor)," said Donna Brian, a member of the Charriot Racing Association. Taylor represents both equestrian enthusiasts and other recreationists, she said.

"It's a major mistake," Brian said of plans to extend the road, which runs from I-15. The road will bypass Payson businesses, which are already suffering, Spencer said.

Judy Spencer, a member of the Cocklebur Riding Club, also backs Taylor. While she recognizes the need for the new recreation center, she opposes the city extending the road.

Jacobson called the protest "a last-ditch effort (to stop the project)."

"It's just a mudslinging campaign by a few people in town," Jacobson said. She said the protest will make no difference and the project will go on.

The City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. with a study session. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 439 W. Utah Ave.