Doggone it — Pitkin County open space board punts on leash advice

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A sign at the Arbaney Kittle trailhead urges voluntary compliance from dog owners.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times | Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

At least one member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of trustees feels the organization’s property shouldn’t go to the dogs — at least not when they’re off-leash.

“How many times do you get out of a car and have a damn dog jump on you? It bothers me. It bothers a lot of people,” said trustee Tai Jacober during the board’s meeting Thursday.

“Everybody thinks their dog is the best damn thing in the world,” Jacober said. In reality, “90 percent of them” are out of control, he claimed.

Jacober’s strong sentiments helped persuade the board not to formalize an unofficial practice of allowing dogs to be off-leash in the parking lots and short stretches of county-owned trails at the Arbaney Kittle and Perham Creek trailheads. Open space rangers allow dogs to be off leash if they are in voice control and within sight of their owners. The open space and trails staff asked the trustees Thursday to consider advising the county commissioners to formalize that policy.

The Arbaney Kittle Trailhead is just east of Basalt in Holland Hills. It’s a popular, year-round hike that attracts a high percentage of people with dogs.

Perham Creek is a secluded trail connecting the Crystal River Valley with the Thompson Creek area.

The board ultimately declined to make a recommendation. The current unofficial policy will remain in place, Senior Ranger John Armstrong said after the meeting. A sign at the trailheads asks dog owners not to let their pets out of vehicles until they are ready to hike. At both properties, the county owns short stretches of trail that rapidly ascend from the valley floor. The trails continue into the White River National Forest. The Forest Service allows dogs to be off-leash in those areas.

Armstrong said it’s never been a high priority for rangers to patrol those areas because it involves short stretches of trail. However, occasional tickets are issued for not picking up dog waste, he said.

During the trustees’ discussion Thursday, Jacober said he favored requiring dogs to remain on-leash in the Perham Creek and Arbaney Kittle parking lots. Trustee Hawk Greenway agreed that dogs should be on-leash upon exit from a vehicle, but they could be let off once on the trail. However, since the idea was never voted on, it will be up to the county commissioners to determine the policy.

Thursday’s discussion didn’t affect policy on Smuggler Mountain Road, a popular route where dogs can be off-leash when in voice and sight control. Dogs are allowed on-leash at numerous open space program properties.

In addition, the open space and trails program will still assess if the river trail at Jaffee Park is appropriate as an area where dogs can be off-leash and in voice and sight control.

“Jaffee Park is an area that has a management plan that requires dogs on-leash,” said a memo prepared by the open space and trails staff. “The public has been using the river trail adjacent to the park with dogs off-leash for many years with minimal conflict.”

The leash law has been enforced at Jaffee Park since August. The open space program will determine long-term policy as part of the Roaring Fork Gorge River Access and Conservation Plan that will be developed this summer, the staff memo said.

The open space program also is exploring how to present and deliver information to local residents and tourists about leash rules for dogs on its own properties as well as surrounding towns and federal lands.