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PEDRO, Ohio — One man’s dream to create a family equestrian destination in Lawrence County came to successful fruition, and the dreamer credits support from family, friends, the community, and state and local leaders.

U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, dropped in at Elkins Creek Horse Camp last week to observe the success he helped create with his support and actions, according to a news release from owners Rick and Jill McCleese. Johnson spoke with the couple about the economics of Southeastern Ohio and their thriving equestrian business. The three of them saddled their horses and rode.

In 2008, Rick McCleese invested his life savings to build his dream of a safe, family-oriented campground for equestrians and their horses. In 2009, Rick met his wife Jill, and his dream became their dream. With a shared passion for horses, they began working to increase safe, scenic, and sustainable trails and to promote recreation and tourism in the local Tri-State area, Dean State Forest and Wayne National Forest.

“Twelve years later, long hours of hard work, and over-coming tornado damage, flooded roads and government regulations, Elkins Creek Horse Camp has become known has an oasis of peace and contentment,” Jill McCleese said. “A great place to get away from the pressures of work and whirlwind of everyday living. The camp has access to 100 miles of trails showcasing the glory of God’s nature.”

Rick McCleese said he reached the level of excellence with the help of family, friends and community leaders. Congressman Johnson has supported the McCleeses and other businesses by coordinating with federal agencies in understanding and reduction of unnecessary regulations, Rick McCleese said.

The couple also expressed appreciation for the support of Lawrence County Commissioners, the Wayne National Forest Ironton Ranger District, Dean State Forest, the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, and all the many local businesses and community leaders.

Elkins Creek Horse Camp has become a successful business that contributes to social and economic sustainability in the region from the 1,749 people who visited camp in 2019, according to the news release. Sixty-seven percent of the visitors were from outside Ohio. The estimated economic impact to the surrounding area is approximately $1.2 million annually from this one small business. The camp spreads its economic benefits to local caterers, music groups, printers, and other local small businesses. The owners said they encourage visitors to enjoy the local restaurants, groceries, retail stores, RV services, fishing, hiking, kayaking, shooting range and hunting opportunities.

One special event is the Iron Horse Endurance Ride. Ride manager Mollie Krumlaw-Smith states, “These trails have been enjoyed by riders from all over the United States, as well as visitors from Australia, South Africa, Uruguay, Spain, Canada, and the UAE. During 2019, 1,749 visitors from across the USA drove over 280,700 miles to ride the Lake Vesuvius Horseback Riding trails, and while here spent over 7,500 nights, and 8,500 days in Lawrence County. Additionally, two World Champion Endurance Riders have ridden this system, and they feel it is one of the best systems in the United States. They have also expressed an interest in discussing the possibility of bringing an international event to the area.”

The 100 miles of world-class trails near Elkins Creek are safe, scenic, and sustainable because of the many hours of generous volunteer time. Partnering with Wayne National Forest and Dean State Forest , Elkins Creek Horse Camp and Volunteer Clubs contributed over 45,000 hours of volunteer time and has acquired over $50,000 in private grants. Over the last 10 years, volunteers have donated 45,000 hours, which is valued at $4,600,000.

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