Slow down! Arf! And thus the battle is sadly joined
Every now and then we are furnished with irrefutable evidence that things have reached an alarming state of affairs here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
One such time was this week, when Pitkin County’s animal safety director issued an edict: The county’s leash law will be enforced on Smuggler Mountain for the first time in history.
The decades-old leash law has not been enforced on Smuggler Road up until now because, well, because there’s been no need for it. For years, people have used the road for exercise while accompanied by their canine companions and there haven’t been any real problems – so enforcing the law seemed pointless.
But these days, there is little that goes on around here without some kind of problem, and a battery of complaints to go along with it.
In this case, it appears that the dog walkers of Smuggler Mountain Road are joining the ever-increasing legions of those who have fallen victim to the ever-increasing density of the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s population.
As the valley has grown, more and more people use the road for various activities. This was chronicled in a recent Aspen Times story in which a reporter spent a few hours one week walking up and down the road, interviewing any and all who were willing (or able) to walk and talk at the same time.
Unfortunately, as the number of people using the road has grown, so have the conflicts. These days, on any given day, anyone hiking or biking up the road to the platform at the top and back down again can easily encounter a few dozen others doing the same thing. And when some of them are accompanied by untethered dogs, the encounters are not always mellow – when, for example, two dogs decide they have a turf issue to settle, or when a dog tries to get friendly with a mountain biker speeding down the road.
When such encounters were few and far between, it was not much of an issue, and there wasn’t much justification for enforcing such things as speed limits for bicycles or leash laws for dogs. People moved here to get away from the constraints of urban society, after all, and the last thing anybody wanted to do was impose the kind of rules one can expect in a city park but not on a country lane.
But, lamentably, we seem to have reached the point where our freedoms are beginning to crowd each other out.
Re Re Baker, the county’s animal control officer, said she has been receiving complaints from all segments of the population that use Smuggler Mountain, although if the letters to the editors of our local papers are any indication, the conflict seems to be boiling down to a war of words between the bikers and the dog walkers.
Both groups have legitimate points, of course.
It is undeniably true that Smuggler Mountain Road has been one of the last havens for allowing a dog to run free.
And it is just as true that the steep climb offers a quick, hard, convenient workout to a biker.
But it is equally true that these two groups – the bikers and the dog walkers – have been the targets of complaints from others for years. People who simply want to enjoy the relative peace of a walk up Smuggler have had their reveries shattered by speeding bikers and slobbering canines alike.
So it would appear that Re Re Baker has come up with the only realistic solution to the rising crescendo of user conflicts – enforce both the leash law for the dogs and the speed law for the bikers.
This entirely unhappy situation, of course, will reach its zenith of absurdity when we see a deputy sheriff’s patrol car on Smuggler Mountain Road, ticketing dog owners whose animals are not leashed and aiming a speed gun at bikers who seem to be going too fast.
But so it goes, as we cross yet another threshold and lose yet another bit of the freedoms that drew us here in the first place. None of us like it, but we can’t seem to do anything to prevent it.
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