Indoor riding arena

Athol Daily News – Athol, New England Equestrian Center signs 99-year lease

Published: 03/18/2022 10:07:41

Modified: 03/18/2022 10:07:02

ATHOL – Negotiations that began last July concluded when members of the Athol Selectboard and officials from the New England Equestrian Center in Athol signed a 99-year lease for two parcels of land off New Sherborn Road totaling more than 220 acres. The pact was signed after being unanimously approved at the board meeting on Tuesday, March 15.

Speaking to NEECA President Caroline Mansfield and Vice President Sue Ellen Mowcomber, City Manager Shaun Suhoski said, “I know you don’t like me putting you on the spot, having an interest live now, just give the community what it opens up in terms of some of your ideas and development plans, and grants that you couldn’t get but now can.

Long term goals

“We had a meeting a few weeks ago about our longer term goals,” Mowcomber replied, “so within two to five years we’re looking to secure several grants to open the trails, paired with trail systems in Petersham, and other trails in Athol.

“It will bring more people to the area because one of our current limitations in attracting equestrian riders – we don’t have enough trails to make it worthwhile.”

She added that another objective is the development of a water source for drinking and sanitary facilities. The municipal water and sewer systems do not extend to the site of the centre.

“Our long-term goal,” Mowcomber continued, “is to get an indoor arena at the park. It’s a really big expense; it’s probably a million dollars. And we can’t collect that only with the funds from our events. We have to use sales people to get support for this. And without the lease, no one will give us this money.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a one-day event license for the Athol Area YMCA and NEECA to hold a triathlon on June 11 which included horseback riding, a 10k run and a bike ride.

“We have people from Connecticut, from Boston, Natick, Brighton — from everywhere, coming to Athol for events like this,” Mowcomber said.

“We actually have over 30 events like this this year,” Mansfield added. “We do ASPCA large animal rescue and we have 80 people registered for it from New York State, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Boston area.

“We have three other organizations renting the facility this year, which is a first. We have about six other events organized by other organizations. We’re coming out of two years of a pandemic and we’re kind of ready to roll – things are falling into place.

Mansfield said while the main focus is on building the indoor arena, a number of smaller projects are also underway.

NEECA will pay the city $100 per year. If the center generates between $30,000 and $99,999 in a given year, five percent of that revenue will go to the city. According to the lease, the city will receive 10% if the center brings in $100,000 or more “in a tax year.”

In December, NEECA presented the city with a check for $4,000, the final payment of a 12-year, $45,000 loan guaranteed by the city for the purchase of Elwin Bacon Way, a stretch of road not pavement that stretches approximately three-quarters of a mile from New Sherborn Road into the equestrian center. The payment withdrew the loan a year early.

The road was created to replace what amounted to little more than a cart path that entered the property a little further north on New Sherborn Road. The road is named after Elwin Bacon, a major force behind the founding of the organization.

Greg Vine can be contacted at