Beaufort News

Is Bluffton putting carriage before the horse?

There is a battle brewing in Bluffton between residents who want to bring horse-drawn carriage rides to downtown and their neighbors who say no.

(I spent five minutes trying to find a humorous way to work the word "nay" into the previous sentence. But then I realized that there is just no way to accomplish that, because most of my readers are not 6 years old. Although I reserve the right to use the phrase "baaaa-d" in any/all future columns about sheep.)

The argument against bringing horses downtown is that they are slow, smelly and, let's face it, kind of a bummer to watch as it's never fun seeing majestic creatures schlepping around sweaty tourists in 100-degree heat. The argument for the rides are, well, money sure is rad.

Seriously, I racked my mind for another devil's advocate reason for them, and I couldn't think of one. (And don't say, "Tourists love it!" Tourists love anything. You go on vacation to spend money doing things you'd never pay for at home. If you charged $40 to stand barefoot on hot asphalt, there would be five to 10 people who'd plan their vacations around it.)

Try and mount a defense for the rides; it won't last. It's sort of like those arguments you had in your 20s about obscure nonsense, where you start off really opinionated and heated but quickly lose steam when you realize that you absolutely do not care about winning the fight.

"Fine. The Pet Shop Boys are not the greatest band ever. Let's get pizza."

We in Beaufort are certainly aware of the "horse" argument. It seems every year a letter to the editor will spark a discussion about the need/desire for horse-drawn carriages in our downtown. Pick your point of contention: traffic congestion in The Point, horses in the heat in June, the always appetizing smell of warm urine.

A horse-drawn carriage is one of those ideas that looks great on paper but becomes increasingly hard to defend when you're stuck behind one trying to get to the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge before it opens. And as long as they remain active in Beaufort, the same conversation will bubble up every three months or so. I'm just happy to see someone else having it for a change. But I'm a little surprised to see that it's Bluffton picking up the fight.

Please do not take this as any sort of slam to downtown Bluffton, because every time I visit, it seems to up its "charm" factor twofold. I think old town Bluffton is quaint in the absolute best sense of the word. But it doesn't seem like the type of neighborhood that is clamoring for horse-drawn carriages.

For starters, it's small. You could lap downtown four times in a 20-minute ride. It would be like that scene from "National Lampoon's European Vacation" where the Griswolds are stuck on the same London traffic circle for hours: "Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament."

Also, the historic district is still growing its reputation. Horse-drawn carriages are usually something you offer when you have a steady stream of tourists you can rely on. Ask yourself this: Of Beaufort, Savannah, Charleston and Bluffton, which one doesn't belong? I'm not sure daytrippers are looking for a five-minute history lesson on the Squat 'N Gobble.

Alan Ulmer, who wants to start the carriage company, told The Island Packet, "We're not coming here to make millions. We think it would bring something special to Bluffton." And that is the right attitude.

If the idea of a carriage is as something extra to offer visitors -- maybe during special weekends or a few Saturdays during the summer -- then fine. Anything more ambitious would never work.

And even if you could prove it was a success, it still doesn't overcome the moral argument against having your main employees work for hay. What other business do half of the people look at your product with excitement and the other half with a mixture of pity and sadness? (Besides golf.)

As Scott Corkern, the man primarily fighting the potential carriages, put it to the Packet: "Lots of friends of mine are horse people, and none of them have any love for the carriage trade." Which is just a fabulous quote, because it reads like he originally gave it in 1842.

But, hey, have at it Bluffton. I encourage you to have this civic argument and hope that you come up with an answer. And when you get it, please let us in Beaufort know what it is. Because we obviously can't figure it out.