Oh, poop. Breckenridge closes dog park due to excess feces left from winter | AspenTimes.com

Oh, poop. Breckenridge closes dog park due to excess feces left from winter

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily
A closure notice at the entrance of Carter Park Dog Park, seen on Friday, April 26, in Breckenridge. The Town of Breckenridge has been forced to close the dog park due to excess fecal bacteria levels caused by dog owners not cleaning up after their pets.
Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com

Some people ruin it for everyone.

Carter Park in Breckenridge has been closed indefinitely due to unsanitary conditions caused by high levels of fecal bacteria left over from dog poop not picked up from the snow in winter.

The unsightly hazard, which has become increasingly common in parks and trails across Summit County, is prompting Breckenridge town officials to look at stepping up enforcement on irresponsible dog owners who don’t pick up their dog waste.

The town made the announcement on its Facebook page Friday morning.

“We love dogs as much as the next person, but it is the responsibility of the pet owner to clean up after their pets,” the announcement read. “By cleaning up after your pets, we can ensure that the dog park can stay open for everyone!”

Town Manager Rick Holman said the town was made aware of the problem after locals complained about massive amounts of dog poop uncovered at the park as the spring thaw continues. The town tested soil and groundwater at the dog park, and found excess levels of harmful fecal bacteria that made the area unsafe for both dogs and humans.

Holman said the town is disappointed that irresponsible people continue to misuse a hard-fought public amenity.

“We worked really hard with stakeholders to build the park, and one of the conditions was that users would do their part in keeping it clean,” Holman said. “We needed users to police it, call people out if they were not picking up. Obviously that’s not happening and people aren’t picking up after their dog. It’s concerning and disappointing that the town adds amenities and people don’t respect them.”

Breckenridge Open Space & Trails manager Anne Murphy said that 1 gram of dog feces can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, along with a horror parade of parasitic worms and viruses that can pass between dogs and, in some cases, to humans.

The average dog deposits 340 grams of poop a day. With nearly as many dogs in Summit as people, the collective problem has become a giant headache for town and county government.

Aside from the direct health risks, dog poop is also bad for the environment. Dogs have nutrient-rich diets, and when excreted, those nutrients — especially phosphorous and nitrogen — get absorbed into the soil, which in turn can get into groundwater and river water, wreaking havoc on natural water chemistry and causing invasive flora and fauna to thrive.

By closing the dog park for at least a few weeks, the area gets to dry out and bacteria levels can go back down to normal. However, the fix isn’t as easy for the town’s trail network, where piles of dog poop bags are often seen deposited at trailheads. The sight has become common for Summit County locals, and the town is looking to gather volunteers for a “dog poop pickup day” sometime this summer.

Town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, who brought the dog park issue to the attention of town staff on a constituent’s behalf, said that neither he nor the town want to change the dog-loving culture of Summit County. But it’s up to regular people to start doing their part to maintain the spaces they love.

“In Summit County, a dog is like a member of our family, yet it’s a member of the family we don’t pick up after,” Bergeron said. “These parks are great amenities, and we need to try to get people to keep them as great amenities.”

Holman said that the town has asked the Breckenridge Police Department to step up enforcement of dog waste cleanup. The town will continue to try to use education as the primary means to keep dog waste in check.

“It is a tool that’s available, but we hope we don’t have to go that route,” Holman said. “We hope education works, and that everyone can be responsible pet owners and follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.”