Our View: Dog park plan should avoid multiuse areas

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Editorial Board, August 2010

  • Suzanne Schlicht, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— Any city efforts to expand off-leash dog areas should focus on parks and open spaces, not crowded multiuse trails where conflicts are more likely.

After more than a year of trial off-leash programs at Spring Creek Park and a small section of Rita Valentine Park, the city appears ready to move forward with a more formalized off-leash plan. The Steamboat Springs City Council expressed support for expanded off-leash areas in a 5-1 vote Aug. 3.

At Spring Creek, a proposed expansion would allow dogs to be off-leash from the trailhead on Amethyst Drive all the way past Spring Creek Park, to the footbridge leading farther up Spring Creek Trail. Chris Wilson, director of the city’s Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, noted that after that footbridge, the Spring Creek Trail leaves city land, and off-leash dogs under voice and sight command are allowed. The changes would effectively make the entire trail an off-leash area.

The expansion also would make all of Rita Valentine Park an off-leash dog area. Off-leash dogs currently are allowed only in an area near the park’s parking lot.

There’s certainly irony in the city’s consideration of making all of Rita Valentine Park off-leash just a couple of weeks after the City Council — in a decision we supported — intervened to stop the construction of a new disc golf course there. Rita Valentine Park, long a controversial parcel of open space for various user groups, lacks a clearly defined master plan. And local Colorado Division of Wildlife officials expressed concerns about the disc golf course’s impact on a valuable riparian corridor that serves as prime habitat for deer, moose and bear.

It’s hard to see how allowing dogs to romp around the totality of the open space off leash won’t also disturb wildlife and the riparian corridor. Perhaps we’re sorely mistaken, but how many dog owners will venture into the open space’s tall, native grasses to go searching for the dog’s fecal deposits?

And while Spring Creek Park — the area immediately surrounding the reservoir — is an ideal off-leash area for dogs, the popularity of the remainder of the Spring Creek Trail for users of all types makes it particularly challenging for a dog free-for-all.

There’s no question Steamboat Springs is a dog town, but that shouldn’t blind us to the reality that many folks don’t like dogs, are scared of dogs or are allergic to them. And even some people who like dogs don’t appreciate strange canines rushing at them without the restraint of a leash.

Expanded off-leash areas make sense for Steamboat, but we’d like to see some research go into the ideal place for those areas. For example, expansive parks such as Whistler Park seem ideal for dog owners who want to let their animals run off some energy during innocent games of fetch or Frisbee. Those larger open space areas also seem less likely to invite conflict between the varied user groups who flock to Steamboat’s hiking and biking trails.

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