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Just doing their job

Dear Editor:

As a trustee of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails fund, I have been watching all of the public debate over the “appropriateness” of our ranger John Armstrong’s activities. As many of you know, recently there was a letter to the editor viciously attacking John; the letter used inappropriate analogies and misinformation about John’s employment history to try to paint him a villain. The open space and trails (OST) board members have been gratified to finally see a public defense of John’s job.

I would like to say a few things about the job of the open space ranger. First of all, our rangers are doing the job the open space board hired by them to do. They are writing tickets because we have instructed them to do so; several years of public education and trying to be nice have resulted in only minimal behavior modification of local dog owners. Regardless, it is still the OST policy to favor warnings whenever plausible; people who receive tickets are either in egregious violation or have been previously in violation. Please note that we receive more complaints about dogs off leash and rampant poop than we do about our rangers issuing tickets.

The open space board is responsible for overseeing the stewardship of the county’s open space and trails; that job includes protecting wildlife habitat and balancing user groups. The few stretches of dog-prohibited trails lie in unique habitat. On the other stretches, poorly behaved, unleashed dogs degrade the recreational experience for others. Just the other day, an unleashed dog bit one of our trustees on Smuggler Mountain!

We manage recreational experiences for people, not dogs. It is your responsibility as a dog owner to show consideration to other people; that means maintaining control over your dog. These other people include dog people, “non-dog” people, bicyclists, nordic skiers and horseback riders – all the different user groups we try to accommodate on our trails. When dogs start paying property taxes, we will make a greater effort to accommodate their needs exclusively.

The thing that prompted me to write this letter is The Aspen Times weekly online poll question, “Is Pitkin County being overzealous in its enforcement of leash laws on area hiking trails?” As most poll questions are, this is a misleading question, designed to elicit a particular type of response; the language of this question presumes that our enforcement is overzealous. Perhaps a fair question might be a two-pronged one: “Do you support Pitkin County’s leash laws on area hiking trails? If so, do you think Pitkin County enforces them appropriately?” An affirmative answer to the first question presumes enforcement; the response to the second question allows commentary on whether enforcement is excessive, or, as many of our constituents suggest, insufficient.

Our rangers’ jobs are difficult, requiring a certain level of conflict with those who don’t support them and little appreciation from those who do.

Anne Rickenbaugh

trustee, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails


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