Should Carbondale park go to the dogs?
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” The future of Carbondale’s popular Delaney Nature Park ” and specifically how its increasing use as a free-roaming dog park will be handled ” remains to be seen, despite a two-hour discussion and open public forum on Tuesday.
A list of staff recommendations for the future use of the 33-acre park, located below the bluff where Fourth Street and Merrill Avenue come together, spurred strong opinions on an already contentious issue.
What to do about unleashed dogs aside, the town intends to maintain the property as rangeland and preserve its natural setting until its ultimate use is decided, said Larry Ballenger, public works director.
The staff also recommended the town resume irrigating the park property to sustain its wildlife. The town will also do a controlled burn of the grassy areas this spring to help control weeds.
“We need to actively attack those noxious weeds,” said Eric Petterson, principal ecologist with Rocky Mountain Ecological Services, who was retained last fall to complete a study of existing conditions and recommended management actions. “Hitting those weeds early will save you a lot of time and money in the long run,” he said.
Carbondale Recreation Director Jeff Jackel reminded the Town Board of the 2002 master plan for the property. Time, money and effort was spent reaching out to the community to find what residents wanted for the then-newly acquired park property, he noted.
The town didn’t allocate the funds necessary to carry out the plan, but some of the ideas are still feasible, Jackel said. The top 12 amenities residents wanted in 2002 were to cost an estimated $332,250 ” 60 percent of which could be potentially covered through Great Outdoors Colorado funding, he said.
“Five or six years ago, this is what the people wanted,” Jackel said. “I recommend that we don’t discount some of the things from the  plan.”
Funding aside, Mayor Michael Hassig agreed a good direction for the discussion would be to figure out what aspects from the master plan are still pertinent and worth pursuing.
“We stumble rather quickly into the costs of the plan,” Hassig said. “We’re still confronted with how to enhance and maintain that property on a shoestring.”
And then there are the dogs.
How to satisfy the dog owners who have been appreciating the off-leash (albeit technically illegal) open space to let their dogs run freely, while maintaining a nature park for citizens to enjoy, is impossible, some said.
“To have a nature park versus a dog park is two totally different things,” said Town Trustee Stacey Bernot. “I don’t think you can have both. If we want to keep it as it is, I think we have to acknowledge that the [2002 master plan] is gone.”
Trustee John Foulkrod supported the dog owners and said the park and the uses that have evolved there ought to be allowed until some other concensus is reached.
Foulkrod noted the data from the 2002 master plan indicated the No. 1 desire among citizens at the time was to maintain a natural passive area/open space at no excess cost to the town.
“People have been using that park more than any other park in town because they can get exercise for themselves and for their dogs,” he said. “The beauty of what’s going on down there is that I can walk. It’s a beautiful place. You’re not in the town down there, you’re in the country.”
Most of the citizens in attendance seemed to favor allowing the park to remain in its current, off-leash state.
“You can make nature happen down there with the dogs as well,” said Carbondale resident Heather Ardley, who pointed to the field of wild orchids on the property. “This is the only park that I can go to where my dog won’t chase wildlife.”
Others said the park isn’t just a place to exercise their dogs, but a place for the community to congregate and bolster relationships.
“It’s never going to be a pristine natural area,” said John Hoffmann, who heads the town’s trails committee and who is running for a seat on the Town Council. “But to use it right now is more than anyone could have hoped for.”
But Trustee Russ Criswell reminded citizens that having dogs off-leash is a violation of the town’s dog-control ordinance.
“I don’t understand how you can justify what you’ve been doing down there,” said Criswell, who was involved in the 2002 master planning. He said he spent time and effort reaching out to the community for their input, and was somewhat perturbed that the master plan wasn’t being honored.
“Let’s change the law if you don’t like it,” Criswell said of the dog-control ordinance.
Town Manager Tom Baker suggested the Parks and Recreation Committee wrestle with the issue a bit more and do some more community outreach to determine if the desires expressed six years ago are still relevant.
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