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Horseback riders raise ruckus with city

By Judith Pannebaker BCC

Owners of companies offering horseback rides packed the City of Bandera Municipal Building on Thursday, March 17, in response to an agenda item that could have affected their livelihoods.
If approved, the item would have awarded an exclusive contract to Diane Migliaccio, owner of Running R Ranch, for a horseback riding concession in City Park.
Not surprisingly, the other equestrian outfits working throughout the county took exception about the nearly fait accompli contract.
In a preamble to what became an extended discussion, City Administrator Gene Foerster said the contract with Migliaccio would be similar to one the city has with Joe Frazier who owns the “Sno on the River” snowcone concession. “Ms. Migliaccio would provide the city with an insurance as well as be responsible for providing a negative Coggins test on all horses transported into the city limits,” he told council.
Migliaccio described herself as the top concessionaire for the Hill Country State Natural Area that boasts miles of equestrian trails. Her ranch remuda includes 90 horses with 55 working at any one time, according to Migliaccio. She promised to make arrangements for “scooping the poop” as well as for providing adequate shade for her horses during hot summer days.
“This would be a weekend operation only,” Foerster said, implying that other groups could still ride through city park on weekdays. Migliaccio had agreed to pay the city a percentage of revenues generated for the horseback riding sessions.
Councilman Nancy Montgomery felt that granting the Running R Ranch an exclusive contract for the horse concession would put the city in direct competition with the other dude ranches in Bandera County.
“We have contacted the other dude ranches and they have no problem with this,” said Mayor Horst Pallaske.
Montgomery also cited the council’s decision to prohibit Frazier from selling inner tubes and floats because he would then be competing with Bandera Beach Club, which, at that time, had exclusive rights to providing those sorts of river accouterments.
Brian Black, who offers tubes and kayaks behind the Longhorn Saloon, said the city’s exclusive contract with the Beach Club also prohibited him from offering his wares at the City Park.
“If the Beach Club ran out of tubes and paddle boats, no more people could get in the river,” Black said. “There’s three places to put people in the river at City Park. It should be on a first come, first serve basis. I should be able to bring tubes to the river but I can’t.”
Setting the record straight, Foerster said the city no loner has an exclusive contract with Bandera Beach Club.
Concurring with Montgomery’s concerns, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher also felt it unwise to approve an exclusive contract with Migliaccio for conduct rides in the park. Schumacher suggested Migliaccio identify another place within the city to stage the rides.
“I’m not trying to undercut anyone,” Migliaccio said, noting that the majority of her rides were for two hours or longer. “For the one-hour rides, I always recommend other dude ranches.”
While ceding that “Diane is not in direct competition with us,” Capt. Kury of Twin Elm Dude said, “No one needs an exclusive contract. You need to accommodate everyone.” He noted that Jeanne Beauxbeannes, Flying L and Cross T and other companies take horse riders in the city.
“We all need to work together to make Bandera work. No one needs a monopoly or exclusive license,” Kury said.
Also voicing opposition to the exclusive contract, Councilman Binky Archer said, “The city doesn’t need to go into business with one guest ranch.”
City resident Rilla Stephens opposed any horses in City Park. “I don’t think the park is big enough for horses. Kids use the river to swim. (The horses) need to be out of town.”
“As a citizen and taxpayer, I feel the park is underutilized as it is,” said James McGroarty. “There’s no reason you can’t stage horses down there.”
Bandera Business Association President Margaret Paradee said, “When people voted for the master plan, they didn’t want horses permanently in City Park.” When City Park was discussed during the land use master plan workshops, no one spoke in favor of horse stables being constructed in City Park.
Migliaccio quickly said she had no intention of building barns and corrals at City Park. “I would only provide an awning to shade the horses,” she said.
McGroarty asked the council, “Did you go out for bids for this? If you’re offering someone an exclusive contract, you ought to be fair-minded about it.”
“I thought a contract of this size didn’t require going out for bids,” Foerster said.
“I want to encourage horses in the city, but I am not in favor of the city granting an exclusive contract to anyone,” Schumacher reiterated.
Putting it succinctly, Kury said, “The only industry this city has is cowboy tourism. We are overwhelmed by the number of people who come to Bandera - and all of them want to play cowboy. Everyone should have a right to take visitors on a horseback ride though the park. We may live outside the city limits, but we’ve always supported Bandera. It is not fair that one company should have a monopoly. If we work together, then the businesses work as a whole.
In the end, city council decided not to go out for bids for a horseback concessionaire, but rather to allow all companies to access City Park.
As of press time, no horseback riders would be charged $5 a person to hack in the park on weekends.