In September, Friends of Amwell Valley Hunt in New Jersey participated in an afternoon roundtable discussion, "Conversations in Conservation." Sponsored by the New Jersey Land Trust, the meeting brought together area horse groups to highlight close connections between equestrian activities and open space protection. Friends of Amwell Valley Hunt is a 501(c)(3) organization created to pursue the branding and preservation of the hunt's territory.

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Roundtable participants discuss ways to partner to protect open space. Photo courtesy of Barbara Peterson.

"It is a distinct organization from the hunt club," said member Barbara Peterson. "We recognized the need to focus on our territory, to secure the kennels into perpetuity, and create stability going forward." Having previously worked at the Berks County Conservancy in Pennsylvania, she looked to its example, along with the Cheshire Conservancy, to develop the idea for a separate entity focused on maintenance of country. She noted that Amwell Valley hunts 76 miles of trails, mostly on private property maintained by volunteers.

Friends of Amwell Valley safeguards their territory indirectly, as well, by reaching out to educate the public about foxhunting. Under huntsman Steve Farrin, hounds have visited summer camps and other community events to bolster the public's perception of the hunt as part of the community. To improve the hunt's "branding," the group created a content-rich prize book for their annual hunter derby - and it took off, evolving into a sourcebook with narrative content about foxhunting. Now it's similar to a coffee table book, reflecting the Amwell Valley community, amenities, and businesses, which realtors or others can distribute to newcomers as they promote life in hunt country.

"We are stronger collectively, as a group," when advocating to protect open space, Peterson said of the different equestrian clubs who attended the roundtable. "If we don't let people know the value and the benefit we provide, our sport will die." The meeting provided an opportunity to be sure the Land Trust - which has conserved more than nine thousand acres in the county - understood how important equestrian communities are in this cause. At the same time, the attendees from different groups discussed their common challenges, including trail clearing and avoiding volunteer burnout. The afternoon ended with a promise to get together again to continue work toward shared goals.

 

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