Steamboat Springs Anyone who has walked the local public trails lately knows one of Steamboat Springs' dirtiest spring problems has returned dog waste.
Throughout the winter, dog owners don't clean up after Fido does his business. But the mess does not begin to decompose until spring. Once the snow is melted, piles and piles of the waste is revealed, making a messy and, at times, smelly situation.
This year is no different. Come spring, trails on Emerald Mountain, Spring Creek, Fish Creek Falls and numerous other spots around town are lined with dog waste.
With the number of dogs living in Steamboat, one can understand why it is an issue. Last year, 2000 dogs were registered at the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter.
Kirsten Grabenstatter, an employee at the shelter, said officials there estimate about half the dogs in Steamboat Springs are registered. If true, there are nearly half as many dogs living in and around the city as there are year-round human residents.
"It's absolutely disgusting," said Cindie Hill, who was riding her bike Friday on Spring Creek Trail with her 8-month-old dog, Lilly.
The trail was lined with dog waste, some recent and some decomposing from the winter.
Hill said none of it was Lilly's. When her dog goes out in public, someone in the Hill family is close behind carrying plastic bags to pick up after her. Admittedly, Hill said she and most locals don't follow all the pet laws in town, such as keeping dogs on leashes at all time. But she said picking up after the animals is one law that people need to show some responsibility for.
Those who aren't can receive a $10 to $50 fine if caught. Plastic bags to pick up the waste are available at most trails and parks in town.
But many people ignore the bags, which makes public trails around the city a tough place to keep your shoes clean.
"I think that most people do pick up after their dogs. It's the few that don't, and then it sits there all winter," Hill said.
Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes said he knows the dog-waste problem peaks each spring. He has heard complaints and seen letters to the newspaper about it and thinks something needs to be done. However, Hughes said the solution should not have to involve the police.
"Law enforcement is not the way this should be happening. Cooperation is the way to take care of it," he said.
Deborah Fuller, executive director of Yampatika, attempted to solve the problem last week. As part of Earth Day 2002, Yampatika offered a $200 gift certificate to whoever picked up the most dog waste. No one participated, which Fuller said was reflection on why there is a problem in the first place.
"Absolutely no one wants to deal with it," she said.
Fuller hesitates to send visitors in town to Fish Creek Falls because of the dog waste. Furthermore, she is concerned for the health of the rivers. Though animal waste is a natural element in the forest, the waste of a canine is not.
Colorado Division of Wildlife aquatic biologist Kevin Rogers said dog waste could add an unhealthy amount of nutrients to the system. However, he doesn't see it as a detrimental problem.
"We have so many things affecting the river that in my mind have a bigger effect," he said. "Certainly, there may be some contribution, but compared to agriculture and runoff from the streets, it's not much."
Personally, Rogers said he is annoyed by the problem on an aesthetic level.
"Getting rid of it is a noble cause," he said.
Fuller said the best way to get people to pick up after their dogs is education. People should realize that it is a responsibility as a pet owner, just like feeding and exercising the animal.
"It's not the dog's fault," she said.