THE HISTORY OF THE BETHANY HORSEMEN
In 1959 the New Haven Water Company, later to become the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA), was considering closing Lake Chamberlain to horses. Jacob Podoloff, long-time horseman and Bethany resident, heard about the proposed trail closing and contacted the president of the Water Company. He negotiated an arrangement for riders to form a responsible organization in order to continue using the Lake Chamberlain trails. As they rode, they were to patrol and report trespassing and other incidents that might endanger the water supply. The organization was named The Bethany Horsemen.
After the success with the New Haven Water Company, Jacob obtained other landowner agreements to maintain riding trails in town. The Ansonia-Derby Water Company and Elizabeth Spykman’s trails were second and third of several more agreements Jacob added during the years he served as Bethany Horsemen’s first president. More trails were added during the terms of Presidents that followed.
The use of this beautiful area has not been without its challenges. When the RWA assumed control of all the New Haven Water Company properties in the early 1980's, they decided not to renew the former agreement that granted use of the trails surrounding Lake Chamberlain. This decision was not based on misuse, but because the RWA feared that horses would cause erosion which then would create siltation in the reservoir. In addition, the RWA did not want to grant special use of the reservoir to a single group (fishing and hiking were not allowed at that time).
Through persistence and patience, The Bethany Horsemen were able to prove that riding, properly controlled, was compatible with the prime function of water supply lands and use of the trails was officially restored in 1985. Requirements under the new arrangement included parking for horse trailers, community service events, public liability insurance, trail maintenance and marking, and a fee system to support both the cost of the Tag Permit Program and water testing by the Department of Health (DPH). Fortunately 15 years after the system was put in place, DPH discontinued the water testing requirement due to no adverse findings. Our agreement with the RWA is reviewed and renewed annually which is why new tags are issued each Spring and all members must sign a new waiver.
The RWA again considered discontinuing recreational use of the Lake Chamberlain trails after 9/11. However, the monitoring function that The Bethany Horsemen provide helped tip the scales in favor on allowing horses.
In 2002, The Bethany Horsemen assisted fellow Connecticut equestrians by helping to dissuade the DEP and The Nature Conservancy from adopting a uniform management plan which would close all the KELDA water company lands in Fairfield County. The proposed plan had been based on assumptions of detrimental impact similar to those that the RWA had raised 20 years before. The Bethany Horsemen experience provided invaluable evidence of the inaccuracy of such general assumptions.
We became The Bethany Horsemen, Inc. in 2003 and are now incorporated as a non-profit recreational club. Keeping Bethany's RWA and private landowner trails open to horses is our number one priority. How we conduct ourselves on horseback determines if we can continue to enjoy this unique area, as so many have before us. There is a link on this website called Rules of Riding. Please take a moment to review its content. Happy trails everyone!
Annual permits allow horsemen to enjoy the beautiful views along the Lake Chamberlain dirt road along with hikers and fishermen. Bethany is home to the only RWA tract that allows horses - a privilege the Bethany Horsemen work diligently to preserve.