Sunset Ranch to hold open house, share plans

Published on Thu, Sep 11, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Sunset Ranch to hold open house, share plans

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

Every morning Karen Murphy drinks a cup of coffee on her porch before starting her day�s work of fixing fences, mucking stalls, ripping out blackberry bushes, cleaning house and other heart-pumping chores on the farm. But the farm where she and her family live is not just their home, it�s also a county park.

Murphy�s home is the Sunset Farm Equestrian Center, owned by Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, located at 7981 Blaine Road on the Blaine outskirts. She, with her husband Sean and five children aged five to 18, have been living on the farm for several months and are now operating the park. They are in the middle of remodeling, cleaning and thinking: all components to significant parks improvements which will be shared with the public during an open house on Sunday, September 21 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

�This whole place is like a dream. I keep thinking I am going to wake up,� Murphy said.

Several months ago, Whatcom County Parks and Recreation sought to find an operator for the park, and publicly invited individuals to write a proposal outlining plans and objectives for the farm. It wasn�t until three days before that proposal was due, that Karen and her husband learned about the potential farm deal, she said. So they quickly drove to the park, checked out the acreage and possibilities, and contacted Lynne Givler, the operations manager at the parks department.

For the next three days, Karen said she spent about 10 hours a day writing a proposal, surrounded by several open business books and a mug of coffee. She submitted a whopping 22 pages, just in time for the Friday deadline. (The county parks department was seeking a proposal about a fifth of the size.) �Nothing worth having is free. You�ve got to work for it, then it means something to you,� Karen said. �When you want something, you have to work for it. And I�m all about work.�

The county parks department received several proposals; however, because of the Murphys� hard work, they were selected for the job, and shortly after moved in.

Future park plans
In the tack room at Sunset Ranch, there are a few saddles pitched on the wall, that remind Karen of her horse experience thus far. One is an english saddle her mother had and later gave to her, another is a western saddle that she worked for nearly an entire summer to obtain. These saddles, like the farm, are symbolic of the family�s beliefs and ethics: you work hard to get what you want.

Karen was on her first horse at three years old, and grew up around them. She has tons of horse stories and one even has a picture: she was kicked by a horse near her right hip, its horseshoe mark clearly outlined on her skin for quite some time. Karen now has a framed picture of that bruise, and the actual horseshoe, in her home as a reminder of her work with that horse.

The goal, Karen and Sean said, is for Sunset Ranch to be a park where everyday people, such as themselves, can come to the farm on the weekends or during their free time.

�We want this to be a blue-collar boarding facility. There�s no reason people can�t have an affordable place to keep your horse,� she said.

The bottom line, they said, is that horse riding and care can get spendy, but Sunset Ranch is an affordable way to do it.

In addition to serving as a blue-collar outlet for the equine community, the Murphys said the farm will be a beginnning step for those interested in learning about horses and riding them.

�There seems to be a lot of interest from the community,� she said, adding she hopes those interested will stay. �I want this farm to be the first step. We can introduce kids to horses, and teach them how to take care of them, clean them, ride them, stay on, etc.�

A week-long pony camp program is still in the works, but there will be one in the morning and one in the afternoon, both costing about $50 per week.

Karen said she is not a professional horsewoman on paper, but has lots of experience. �The kids get an introduction, and when they decide what they really want to do, then we can go to the next step,� she said, adding once riders/people have learned the basics, the Murphys can send them to other organizations/businesses that have more greater qualifications to offer.

�This will be a place for people to take horses out for a ride on the trail,� she said. �We�re trying to bring the equine community together as a whole.� To do this, the Murphys are improving the existing facilities and plan on expanding. Currently, the 69.5 acre-farm has a barn with nine stalls, but there is room for seven or eight more, as well as four riding trails and horse roundpens.

Other plans include an indoor arena, complete with two separate areas for different disciplines. �We want to cater to as many different forms of riding as we can,� Karen said.

Also ahead are open trail riding, a western-themed outdoor child play area and construction of a gazebo in the apple orchard. �It�s a nice setting, even just to watch and be in a pastoral setting,� Karen said.

Another idea, Sean said, is to bring developmentally disabled children and adults into a work assessment program at the farm, where they voluntreer their time, and gain job experience. �But transportation and logistics issues are getting in the way of making that happen,� he said.

In addition to this, juvenile services have already been at the farm, performing hours of paintning, fence repair and loading hay.

�We�re trying to provide something that�s different for the community,� Sean said. �We want to do whatever we can to help.�

The Murphys are also helping out the actual horse community, as they have their first rescue horse, a 20-year-old named Pete, living on the farm. He is still showing signs of abuse, but has recently gained 67 pounds, Karen said.

When Karen initially met the horse, she fed him an apple to see how he would react, and he did so positively. �He was a complete and total gentleman,� she said, adding they are also talking to other rescue contacts in the county, and enjoy watching Pete fatten up and roaming the fields.

The Murphys have a three-year lease for the farm, and their goal, during that time is to make horse safety the top concern, keep the property maintained, and begin implementation of expansion plans.

They say the county is a peaceful place and find people helpful and would like to support the county and its businesses, while working the farm. Locally, the family said the Pacific Building Center has been a lot of help to them, as well as Laurel Farm and Pelican Press.

The open house will be held on Saturday, September 21 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

�We get the feeling that some people aren�t sure if they can use the park, but we want them to know there are things available here to use,� she said.

The actual farm was taken over by the county parks and recreation department in late 1993, after former owner Kay Lowry wanted the farm to continue as a horse facility for the residents of Whatcom County. She donated half the value of the $1 million property to the parks and recreation department, and in turn they applied for and received a grant for $500,000 to cover the other half.

�My goal for this place is to be self-sustaining,� Karen said, adding she hopes the county sees the work she and her family have done, and will back her up.

�We take good care of this place and we hope the county says �you�ve earned it,� and let me come back. If you get a chance to have your dream, you�ve got to go full throttle,� she said.