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Off-leash proposals being planned in Steamboat Springs

City staff drafting ordinance that would expand areas at parks

Carole Buelter plays with Cecil at Spring Creek Park on Monday morning.

— City staffers are preparing a new ordinance that would expand off-leash dog areas at Spring Creek and Rita Valentine parks beginning this fall.

The ordinance also could increase signage at off-leash areas and add pick-up stations for dog waste, while also spurring the end of the city's voice- and sight-control evidence tag program.

The Steamboat Springs City Council expressed support for expanded off-leash areas Aug. 3, in a 5-1 vote with Councilman Walter Magill opposing. At Spring Creek, the 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 the 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 enters county land, where off-leash dogs under voice and sight command are allowed, so the changes would effectively make the entire trail an off-leash area.

Wilson said the expansion 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.

City Council's wide-ranging discussion of dog-related regulations Aug. 3 was in response to recommendations made by the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. Wilson said that commission now will work with the Steamboat Springs Police Department and city animal control officers to discuss increased signage and enforcement of animal waste regulations. City Council members Cari Hermacinski and Meg Bentley asked for more enforcement of dog waste pick-up regulations.

"I think we need ticketing," Bentley said.

Wilson said the new ordinance, intended for City Council agendas this fall, could address those issues. He said ending the city's voice- and sight-control evidence tag program, in which dog owners receive city certification for using off-leash areas, will be up to City Manager Jon Roberts. The program exists at Robert's discretion, Wilson said Monday.

Councilman Kenny Reisman opposed the program Aug. 3, calling it "fluffy" and "a waste of time" that smacks of over-governance.

"I don't see the value of the program," Reisman said. "I think it gives us, as a city, a false sense of complacency."

Wilson said given City Council's direction this month, the tag program likely would end with the new ordinance.

Magill said he opposed the off-leash expansions because he often hears from constituents who have problems with off-leash dogs.

"Off-leash dogs with irresponsible owners are a hazard to kids, runners, bikers," Magill said.

Danielle Domson, a local district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, opposed the expansion of off-leash areas in Spring Creek because of elk winter range bordering the property. Much of the Spring Creek Trail through county land is seasonally closed for elk habitat.

"I think there are other areas that are much smarter areas to have an off-leash area," Domson said.

Wilson said that until City Council approves the new ordinance through the public hearing process, the current off-leash dog regulations remain in place. Spring Creek Park and the designated area at Rita Valentine Park are the city's only off-leash areas.

City regulations require that dogs be on a 6-foot handheld leash unless in an off-leash area. Residents can call 970-879-4300 for more information about off-leash certification.

"Until the ordinance has its first and second reading … you need to follow the 6-foot handheld leash (rules)," Wilson said.