DuPage County forest preserve officials have unveiled a new five-year plan for Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton that outlines programming, herd health and economic goals.
The plan was created with feedback from an operational assessment conducted earlier this year. The assessment, along with measures like a vet checkup of the herd, was part of the response to complaints in November from some volunteers of horse neglect.
David Guritz, forest preserve education director, said this is the first time in recent years Danada has operated under a business plan.
"The plan does include some of the major strategies from the assessment, but it goes beyond that," he said. "We've taken some time to look at how we want the program to evolve and change."
The plan outlines six major goals: enhancing visitor experiences; adjusting marketing strategies; upholding programming excellence; having an efficient, supportive and well-trained volunteer pool; enhancing fund development to support Danada; and promoting initiatives for excellence in operations, administration and community outreach.
The biggest initial challenge facing Danada is team building between staff and volunteers, Guritz said.
"We need to get folks working together to support the public program initiatives that are outlined in the plan," he said.
Long-term, however, Danada must find a way to sustain its core programs such as sleigh rides, hay rides, summer camps and beginning riding lessons, while dealing with the expenses of maintaining the herd and diversifying programs that might bring more revenue later.
For example, Danada would like to reach out to new audiences like schools, Scout groups and 4-H programs, Guritz said.
But the district also must work to keep the herd healthy and work together with staff and volunteers to make difficult decisions when a horse ages, such as whether to use Danada's horse adoption policy.
During a meeting this month, Commissioner Roger Kotecki asked whether Danada staff members considered moving the bulk of the operation to St. James Farm near Warrenville. The site has an indoor stadium and Kotecki said it might allow the horses to get better exercise in winter.
Guritz said some programming could be scheduled at St. James, but Danada will remain the primary home for horses under the current plan.
"Down the road there may be opportunities for intermittent programming at St. James," Guritz said.
"Danada is set up very well to accommodate the heavier use of a 25-horse herd. I'm not sure that St. James can accommodate that in the long term ... but there has been consideration," he said.