Dog owners howling about new enforcement policies
Hal Clark, a 34-year resident of Twining Flats, told the Pitkin County commissioners yesterday that he’s spent three decades walking four different dogs in Wilton Jaffee Park, usually without a leash and never with any problems.”I’ve never really had any conflict,” Clark said, echoing the comments of Brush Creek Village residents Steve Alldredge and Bland Nesbit. “The first time I ever saw anyone enforcing the rules down there was two weeks ago.”Just a month after Keith Berglund became Pitkin County’s first full-time open space ranger – hired to patrol the trails and open space and educate users about the flora, fauna, rules and regulations – he’s stirring up controversy, especially among dog owners who are used to being left alone.Alldredge, Clark and Nesbit all maintain that walking dogs off-leash in that area is not a problem because the interaction with wildlife is rare, most fishermen are amenable to dogs, and the people who do use the park for dog walking almost always have control over their animals.The three regulars at Jaffee Park felt compelled to ‘fess up to their errant ways in public so they could question the county’s new emphasis on its 11-year-old leash law in a long-neglected rural park.”This equates to me to the Woody Creek Tavern imposing a dress code,” Clark said. It feels like a dress code, he explained, because the county is enforcing rules commonly enforced in parks in urban areas. Berglund and Open Space & Trails Land Steward Gary Tennenbaum say they are simply trying to educate people about the leash law – which is still the law even if it hasn’t been enforced.Tennenbaum said Jaffee Park was identified as a good place to start because of all the different activities that take place there. Five raft companies load into the Roaring Fork at Jaffee Park; fishermen use it to wade into the stream; cyclists ride through along the Rio Grande Trail; people are constantly moving through on foot, either running or walking; and a fair number of people use it to walk their dogs. Wildlife interaction is a relatively minor consideration compared to other areas of county-owned open space and trails.”Trying to get everyone to get along is not easy,” Tennenbaum said. “It’s especially not easy with dogs off-leash.”He and Berglund are planning to move to other areas where education and enforcement will likely be necessary, including Hunter Creek, Smuggler Mountain and the Rio Grande Trail in the Emma area.”We’re enforcing this rule for the first time,” Tennenbaum said.After hearing about an elk killed by two dogs recently along lower Hunter Creek trail, the commissioners rejected a proposal from the dog owners to turn an ungraded trail that runs along the river in Jaffee Park into an experimental off-leash area.Commissioners Shellie Roy and Patti Clapper seemed most open to the idea, but agreed with with Jack Hatfield that the off-leash experiment should wait at least a year until Berglund and Tennenbaum can gather more information about what’s going on where.Mick Ireland, a cyclist and runner who encounters dogs off-leash regularly on the Rio Grande Trail, said he needed to think it through a lot more thoroughly before changing the current policy.”If Bland Nesbit were in charge of all the dogs in the county, I would be for numerous Bark Parks,” Ireland said, referring to off-leash parks in cities and towns around the country. “But nobody is complying with the rules we’ve got in place now.” Even though their call for an off-leash area was rejected, the dog owners applauded the commissioners for hiring someone to keep an eye on its open space and enforce the law.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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