By Julie Thibodeaux

A coalition of supporters is lobbying to keep a little bit of country in the city. Merriwood Ranch is a horse riding facility and summer camp in Garland that’s been in operation since 1956. The 28-acre property was put up for sale this year by heirs after the owner and founder of Merriwood died last year. A developer has purchased the property and wants to build about 40 homes on the land. 

Polly Whittle, who’s been a riding instructor at Merriwood for 9 years, said she initially talked to the owners about purchasing the property but couldn’t come up with the asking price of $1.3 million. She subsequently found a buyer who wants to employ her to carry on the legacy of Merriwood. However, when she came back with an offer, it was too late. The property was sold.

Whittle said she was resigned to the fact that’d she’d missed her opportunity. But support from hundreds of former clients and surrounding neighbors have rallied to the cause. More than 1,400 fans have joined the Save Merriwood Ranch Facebook page since it launched in June.

“I had so many people contacting me saying ‘What can I do to help?’” said Whittle.

Melanie Willett, a Plano teacher whose daughter attended Merriwood as a teen 15 years ago, has been spearheading a letter-writing campaign. She said the facility provides a unique experience for kids that come from all over Dallas, in addition to the Garland community.

“It’s a shame to see more green space go away; especially a place that lives in concert with it,” she said.

Supporters believe they have a chance to save Merriwood because the deal hasn’t closed yet. The developers are still lobbying for a zoning change on the property from agricultural to residential use. In July, dozens turned out to speak before the Garland Plan Commission on behalf of Merriwood Ranch, making the case that it’s an important asset to the community as a rural oasis. 

Whittle says in addition to providing a bucolic home for 50 horses that roam freely, the green space that runs alongside Spring Creek offers wildlife habitat for a variety of animals, including rabbits, birds and a bobcat. According to Whittle, all but 10 acres are in a flood zone. Open land and old-growth trees reduce the heat-island affect and absorb rainwater runoff. 

Perhaps influenced by their arguments, the Garland Plan Commission voted 7 to 1 to keep the zoning for agricultural use in July. However, the zoning change request still must go before the Garland City Council Sept. 3.

Despite having her army of supporters, Whittle is worried that the city will be swayed by the promise of additional property tax income from development. And if the development moves forward and an alternative location can't be found in time, that likely means the end for Merriwood, she said. 

“I have good days and bad days,” said Whittle, when asked about their chances for keeping the facility going. “Just because we need to win, doesn’t mean we will win.” 



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Julie Thibodeaux covers environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living for Green Source DFW. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at See