County considers dog ban on midvalley trail
A year-old pedestrian trail from Emma to the Basalt High School has proven to be too much of a good thing for some midvalley dog lovers.
Pitkin County officials are considering a ban on all dogs because so many of them are allowed to run off-leash. Efforts to get dog owners to comply have largely gone ignored, according to Dale Will, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.
“We’ve been having terrible problems because no one complies with the leash law,” said Will. “It’s not helping our neighborly relations.”
The issue is a classic case of what happens when development spreads around historic ranching lands – when suburban meets rural.
The trail is on the old railroad grade. Pitkin County will finish conversion of the last two-mile stretch from rail to trail this summer, allowing users to travel from Aspen to Emma.
The last stretch to be finished will be from Wingo Junction to the Basalt High School, which includes a pedestrian overpass across Highway 82 at Wingo.
In the two-mile or so stretch between Emma and the Roaring Fork Club, the trail bisects the ranches of Billy Grange and Reno Cerise, as well as open space purchased by the Roaring Fork Conservancy and partners.
Will said unrestrained dogs have chased Grange’s cattle and even chased and bit the rancher. Grange couldn’t be reached for comment about the problem Tuesday afternoon.
The trail isn’t completed through Cerise’s ranch yet, so foot traffic hasn’t been as high.
The county has undertaken several steps to try to force dog owners to comply. Six signs reminding them of the leash law are posted in the two-mile stretch.
Fences alongside the trail through the Grange property have been replaced with a mesh design intended to prevent dogs from entering the ranch lands and open space. Will said the fence erected at the Cerises will be the same mesh design.
The open space program was forced to spend $18,000 more than anticipated for the fences because of dogs off-leash. A worker on the fence crew estimated that he only sees one in five dogs on a leash.
Will said the Roaring Fork Conservancy first proposed the idea of banning dogs. The nonprofit conservation group was concerned about dogs chasing wildlife in land that was bought as a refuge.
The Open Space and Trails board of directors endorsed the idea. Now it goes to the Pitkin County commissioners.
“We just can’t have dogs running on ranches,” Will said. No meeting is scheduled yet.
Eventually the Open Space and Trails program will enforce leash laws on all its trails by having a ranger write tickets. Laws are on the books to write tickets for $100 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third.
The dog issue is a blemish on an otherwise successful story. Pitkin County plans to finish the last stretch from Slaughterhouse Bridge to Emma by August, according to county project manager Temple Glassier. That final segment features a $700,000 overpass across the highway.
Completion of the overpass will allow users to hook into the existing Basalt-to-Old Snowmass trail.
The Open Space and Trails program received an American Public Works Award for the design and construction of the trail as well as multijurisdiction cooperation in completing it. Glassier accepted the award at a ceremony in Denver last winter.
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