The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is considering making improvements to the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, home of the Fair Hill International eventing and combined driving events.

Interest by stakeholders was prompted by new information about the value of Maryland’s horse industry, as well as an invitation by the United States Equestrian Federation to host a four-star eventing competition.

“New economic data shows that the state’s equine industry has grown 23 per cent in the last five years and contributes $1.15 billion in annual economic activity,” said chair of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, Jim Steele. “Improving equine facilities at Fair Hill is a vital part of this industry wide renaissance. We have to stay current and make sure our competition venues meet the needs of the equestrian community.”

The Maryland Horse Park System Study, conducted in 2015, includes a recommendation to enhance existing facilities and infrastructure that would support improved conditions for a broad spectrum of activities and programming, including steeplechasing, timber racing, polo, 4-H, the Cecil County Fair, which are currently held at the venue.

As owner and manager of the 5,656-acre Fair Hill property since purchasing it from the estate of William duPont, Jr. in 1975, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been working closely with equestrian organizations and key stakeholders, including the Sports Commission for the State of Maryland, to ensure that the proposal for the four-star event contributes the greatest benefit to all park users while preserving and protecting the treasured ecological and rural character of the area.

“Regardless of the outcome of the four-star proposal, there remains tremendous interest and support to upgrade Fair Hill’s infrastructure for a variety of recreational uses,” said Maryland Natural Resources secretary Mark Belton. “A community-led foundation is now being developed to begin identifying potential funding for critical enhancements and improvements at the racetrack and fairgrounds.”

Work continues with stakeholders, park users and the greater community to further develop and refine the proposed enhancements in the coming months. As the process unfolds, there will be ample opportunity for public comment and engagement.

“We are excited by the possibility of hosting a four-star event,” said Fair Hill International executive director Carla Geiersbach. “With only six events in the whole world, it would be quite an honor to be selected. The coalition of groups working together on this project is truly amazing. We created a fantastic proposal.”

The United States Equestrian Federation conducted site visits this fall and will likely make a final decision on the four-star event in 2017. It will then offer its recommendation to the FEI for final approval. If the site is selected, Maryland would then join Kentucky as the only state to host both a Triple Crown race and a four-star event.