It’s a far cry from what it was when it was built as a state of the art equine facility by Lee and Martha Mooney back in the 1950s, but nevertheless when Jerry Ims looks at the Lee-Mar Ranch he sees 18,000 square feet of potential.

It’s a far cry from what it was when it was built as a state of the art equine facility by Lee and Martha Mooney back in the 1950s, but nevertheless when Jerry Ims looks at the Lee-Mar Ranch he sees 18,000 square feet of potential.
A single sign adorns the side of the iconic and dilapidated exterior as the only hint of the present efforts to restore the site to its glory of old. Hand painted, the miniature billboard reads: The Future Home of the Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, Inc. and MN Valley Therapeutic Riding Academy.
The wheels of the non-profit project began turning at the start of the year when the intent to revitalize the facility took hold of Ims during a conversation with a long time Lee-Mar Ranch employee. Ims said that it was in the midst of the discussion that he became aware of both a 10 year period, ending in 2002, when the grounds had been utilized for a therapeutic riding program for at-risk students through the school system, and that, at present, the Mooney progeny were considering divesting themselves of the ranch.
“That kind of sparked an idea in my head,” recalled Ims.
The board
This January a few word-of-mouth public meetings were held, and in front of audiences of 30 to 40 individuals Ims laid out what he perceived as the potential benefits for area youth and the local economy if the Lee-Mar Ranch took on a larger function in the community.
As a result of the meetings Ims said he discovered that there was a great need to offer equine therapy for at-risk children within the area, as well as for those with physical and mental disabilities such as autism. The only reason the service had ceased to be performed in 2002 was due to a retirement, after which no one stepped forward to take the programs’ reins.
A group of nine individuals were drawn from the two gatherings and asked to serve on the board that would assist in reinvigorating the Lee-Mar Ranch and developing the riding academy alongside Ims, who serves as the project’s director. Made up of individuals from Granite Falls, Clarkfield, Sacred Heart and Maynard, since its inception, the board has moved swiftly to develop the mission and goals of the project, initiate the creation of 501(c)3 non-profit, begin fundraising efforts and work toward securing the building site.

Soon to boom
Ims said that it was in March that an Intent to Purchase contract was established between the Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, Inc. and the Mooney family, and that the sale of the ranch and roughly 10 acres of property is expected to be consummated this month. Once the deal is complete, the board holds the belief that the project and its funding will really ramp up.
And it will have to; the facility improvements and the services themselves are not cheap. Ims says that the aggregate estimate of exterior, interior and property improvements are upward of $500,000, and that the therapy services themselves will require multiple certified technicians, and in the case of the disabled, perhaps even physical therapists.
“It’s not an inexpensive thing to do,” he acknowledged. “That’s why you have to do it as a non-profit, you cannot charge enough to cover the cost,”
In order to bank the project, Ims explained that the board would be seeking multiple sources of funding, including organizational grants and public donations of labor and money. Already the Equine Center Initiative has received grants from the Granite Falls EDA and United Way Southwest of Minnesota for various aspects of the project.
“At this point we’re right on the verge of exploding out,” said Ims. “Hopefully we can soon say: we own [the ranch], we have [10 acres] and an 18,000 square foot facility; this is what we need.”
While the equine therapy serves as the projects focal point and main source of sustaining dollars, Ims also says that the ranch and the adjacent rodeo grounds (which will be leased from the Mooney family throughout the year and were said to not interfere with Western Fest) has the potential to be used for a number of other activities and services.
Citing events such as the high school rodeo, 4-H gatherings and cattle competitions, Ims commented that he felt that the Lee-Mar Ranch and Rodeo grounds could be utilized 40 weekends out of the year, while horse rescue, training and like services could be performed throughout the four seasons.
“The potential revenue streams are endless,” he said.

Unique to the west
Equine therapy is not uncommon in Minnesota, but Ims pointed out that there are no organizations that provide the services being proposed by the Lee March Ranch outfit in the western portion of the state. The non-profit intends to be certified with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), and upon doing so would become only the sixth equine therapy center to obtain the classification in Minnesota – with all of the other five are said to have a waiting list.
The project will look to draw in clientele from a nearly 50 mile radius, reaching out to neighboring school districts and relevant service facilities such as the Prairie Lakes Detention Center, located in Willmar.
It is the intention of the Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, Inc. board to have a pilot project running beginning this spring, but in order to do so will have to undertake the first phase of the ranch’s exterior restoration. Estimated at $150,000, the first  phase serves as the most substantial as it repairs a leaky roof and revitalizes the outer fascia.

A community effort
Ims and the board are aware of the monumental effort that will be required  to get the Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, Inc and MN Valley Therapeutic Riding Academy up and running, but Ims and the board don’t intend to do it alone.
With the opportunity to restore a Granite Falls icon like the Lee-Mar Ranch in accord with the vast potential for societal and economic benefits, it is the hope that others will recognize the project as a  boon to the community and get involved so to see it come to fruition.
A community barn raising project, as it were ­– only that it’s a ranch.
Individuals interested in becoming involved or donating resources can contact Jerry Ims at (320) 564-3967 or Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, Inc., PO Box 151, Granite Falls, MN 56241.