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Thursday, February 3,2011

A dog's life

Canine lovers howl over new trail closures, claim their input was ignored

By Andrea Sutherland
Photo by Susan France
Dean Paschall sits at the computer in his office, sifting through e-mails from residents concerned about mountain bikes, dogs and horse access.

“We received thousands of e-mails,” says Paschall, manager of public process and communications for Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP).

For the past 16 months, Paschall and the other OSMP staff received e-mails from the public voicing their praise, concern and disdain for the recommendations proposed by the Community Collaborative Group (CCG) for the West Trail Study Area (West TSA).

One of the most frequent subject lines: dogs.

On Jan. 19, the City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) voted unanimously to pass the CCG’s recommendations for the West TSA, which covers 11,250 acres west of Broadway and State Highway 93 and stretches from Eldorado Springs Drive to Linden Avenue.

These recommendations came after 15 community-elected CCG volunteers spent 16 months researching and evaluating trail use and listening to concerns from residents about conservation and recreation issues. The CCG prepared a 33-page document that included recommendations for dog and horse use, as well as suggestions for trail closures and openings for conservation and recreation groups.

The recommendations outlined opening nearly 16 miles of new trails, closing numerous “social” trails and rerouting and fixing several miles of trails, including the Royal Arch and Mesa trails.

The recommendations also included closing 12 trails to dogs and closing 26 percent of the West TSA to equestrians.

On Feb. 1, OSMP staff released the Draft West Trail Study Area Plan, which recommends that mountain bikes not be allowed in the West TSA. OSMP staff said they were continuing to work on acquiring land in hopes of creating a mountain bike trail along Chapman Drive.

“We’re working on access for Chapman and Eldorado to Walker,” Paschall says. “We hope to have access in the very near future.”

Jason Vogel, president of the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA), says he was disappointed with the OSMP’s decision.

“We had two primary objectives,” Vogel says. “One was connectivity, being able to get from where we live to the places we ride. … The second was accessibility for people in the city — families with children and students — to trails close by. Right now, access is still one and a half hours away if you are fit and fast, and you have to jockey with traffic.”

Vogel says it is unclear what value access to Chapman Drive would have for mountain bikers but that he is hopeful the OSMP staff will dedicate the resources necessary to give mountain bikers a decent trail.

The City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees will discuss the OSMP staff recommendations, including recommendations on mountain bike access, at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 9 in the Municipal Building, at 1777 Broadway.

“I wish that the CCG would have come up with some sort of recommendation for this,” Paschall says, referring to mountain-bike access. “There are huge numbers of people on both sides of the issue that will weigh in. It’s clear that we’re not going to be able to please both sides.”

Volunteers in the CCG were elected through neighborhood caucuses to reflect the concerns of residents living near open space.

Volunteers were also elected to represent various groups, including conservationists, dog enthusiasts, climbers, equestrians and mountain bikers.

“Our hope with the CCG was to have this sort of transparent process that people could see the mechanics of all the way through,” Paschall says. “It is the most meaningful engagement when the public can actually help develop that plan and we accept the work the public did.”

Not all community members were happy with the CCG’s efforts.

Sue DeRose and members of the Save Our Dog Access (SODA) activist group expressed their disappointment with the CCG’s recommendations at the Jan. 19 meeting and felt slighted when, directly after the public input session, the board cast its vote.

“We expected trustees to accept the package,” DeRose says. “We didn’t expect it [public input] to be completely ignored.”

Tony Gannaway and DeRose say access for dog walkers has been increasingly restricted over the past 10 years, with more than 50 trails being closed to canines.

“[The OSBT] have purchased 20,000 acres since 1995, and they have opened nothing,” DeRose says.

“The only way they think is restrict,” Gannaway says. “No one is thinking about opening new areas. They don’t think outside the box.”

“As a dog owner, I am awarded the same experience as other visitors,” DeRose says. “But it’s not the same.”

Dog owners say there are reasons why it’s important to them to take their pets with them when they hike.

“I have a hunting dog, and he constantly points to wildlife that I wouldn’t see,” Gannaway says. “Women will frequently go out with a dog when they hike alone to protect against predators. Just going out with a friend is a much more pleasant experience than hiking alone.”

Gannaway, who owns a German pointer, defended off-leash policies in open space.

“There are some steep areas on those trails, and if you’re tied to a dog you might end up in a mess,” he says. “Dogs are part of nature, and they should be free to experience it. When I see people with leashed dogs in the voice and sight areas, to me it means they do not trust their dogs.”

Gannaway and DeRose raised concerns that with continued restrictions, more incidents between dogs and humans would occur.

“The dog owners in general feel like they have been driven out,” DeRose says.

OSMP staff says this is not true.

“Dogs have access to 95 percent of trails,” Paschall says. “Doesn’t it make sense that some percentage of the system be available for a dog-free experience? The CCG has heard that, and we tried to identify some areas where you could at least have one loop where you could hike without encountering dogs.”

With the new CCG recommendations, dogs retain access to more than 80 miles of trail in the West TSA. Nine miles of trail along the Tenderfoot/Chapman loop and Saddle Rock Trail that previously allowed dogs will no longer allow canines.

“We’ve had so many occasions where a dog comes up and greets us and the owner is no where in sight,” says Boulder resident George Oetzel.

Oetzel, 74, says that on a recent weekend he encountered a dog too far away from its owner to be controlled by voice.

“It came past me and turned around and smashed into me,” Oetzel says. “It was not a big dog, but it wasn’t a tiny dog either. Pretty stout. It might have weighed 20 pounds or something. I assume he was just being playful, but that’s an unpleasant sort of playful.”

Pete Taylor, a ranger with OSMP, says dogs take up most of the rangers’ time in the West TSA.

“We get calls about dogs biting, dogs killing other dogs, dogs killing deer, fawns,” Taylor says. “It’s too bad, because there are a lot of responsible dog owners.”

Taylor, who has been a ranger for almost 19 years, says that dogs affect the environment in the West TSA.

“The West TSA is rich with wildlife,” Taylor says. “Dogs, humans, everything impacts the environment. But if people would be more responsible with their dogs, the impact would be minimal, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Paschall says there are a lot of people in the community who don’t own dogs.

“And there are a lot of people who just don’t like hiking with dogs,” he says. “They’re asking for just a few places where they can go up and hike without getting nuzzled in the crotch.”

Paschall says the OSMP’s hope for involving the public through the CCG was to alleviate disappointment among residents once decisions for the West TSA were made.

“Typically land management agencies will work internally and generate some sort of plan and roll it out to the public,” Paschall says. “The public looks at what they created and doesn’t understand all the elements that went into that and they’ll look at the product and hate the product and say, ‘This is wrong. That’s wrong.’ And so the agency will then take that back and will make some modifications, and nobody likes it.”

Now, the CCG members have completed their recommendations and returned to their daily lives, and the OSMP staff have reviewed the recommendations and proposed a plan for implementation, but the work is far from over.

“We like to talk in terms of a 10-year planning horizon,” says Paschall, adding that implementation of recommendations for Eldorado Springs and Marshall Mesa only took two to three years.

The public is invited to provide feedback on the plan before the Feb. 9 meeting, which will be preceded by a 5 p.m. open house in the Municipal Building.

Until then, Paschall will work on clearing his inbox.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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Many people are blind to the issues with dogs on open space. Just because you are not bothered by dogs does not imply that other trail-loving tax payers are also not bothered. It is the embodiment of selfishness to deny others a chance to enjoy open space without dogs when you already have access to over 90% of the trails. I have personal stories similar to Pamela's relating to dogs - usually just overly friendly - knocking down my kids or jumping all over my friend in a wheelchair with muddy paws.


Even if you are blind to the problems with dogs, others are not. Please check out these links to the open space web page that document the poor compliance with dog regulations through studies and enforcement statistics. Dogs account for the overwhelming majority of reported and ticketed "incidents" on open space. Banning dogs from all trails is draconian. Giving others places to hike dog-free is fair.


Serious dog non-compliance in the West TSA



OSMP Report on dog regulation compliance on Doudy / Eldo TSA unacceptably out of compliance:



Even more on low compliance on Doudy / Eldo (if compliance is unacceptably low on this TSA, why is there any reason to think it would be different in the West TSA?)



Research report on dogs on OSMP 2007



More info on http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6944&Itemid=2595




I want to address Pete Taylor's remark that“We get calls about dogs biting, dogs killing other dogs, dogs killing deer, fawns,” Taylor says. “It’s too bad, because there are a lot of responsible dog owners.”

First, Pete is right that there are a LOT of responsible dog owners and the vast, VAST, majority of people with and without dogs enjoy open space trails without incident.

Those of us who enjoy meeting each other on open space, human and canine, should email OSMP and tell them so, as should those of us who happily are left alone by others, human and canine. If all OSMP hears are complaints, then those issues about get blown out of all proportion.

Second, Pete's opening statement is sensational and inflammatory. Whether he intends it or not, his remarks make it sound like "dogs biting, dogs killing other dogs, dogs killing deer, fawns..." are common occurrences that happen everyday. They are not.

I've walked with my dog somewhere on open space for 1-2 hours nearly everyday for decades. I've clocked hundreds if not thousands of hours on the trails with my dog. We've met many people without dogs who are eager to meet mine. We've met many other dogs with whom mine shares a sniff and off we go on our separate ways. We've passed others, both people and dogs, who seem to want nothing to do with my dog, which is fine, and I keep my dog away from them. And, needless to say I am vigilant about picking up my dogs poop and carrying it out with me.

I have never witnessed a dog bite another dog. I have never witnessed a dog killing wildlife of any sort. Those are not in any way shape or form common occurrences or surely given all the time I've spend on open space I would have seen or heard something. Something. Nothing.

The one situation I am aware of was an OSMP ranger who falsely accused a dog of having killed a deer when, in fact, forensic analysis revealed that the deer had died of wasting disease.

That said, I agree that those who want a dog free experience should have it. There are already many trails, beautiful trails, on which dogs not not allowed at all. Many are those I used to walk my dog on years ago and now cannot. They are no-dog trails.

I am not saying that every recreational user of open space is perfectly mannered, human or canine. I know there are occasional undesirable encounters for both people and dogs. I've had a few myself.

But, in truth, I've had HUNDREDS of excellent experiences to one not-so-excellent one in which, say, a dog runs ahead of his person and rushes up to my dog. That's just plain bad doggie manners, just like it would be if a person ran up to you put his face in yours and hugged you. You would not think he was "just being friendly." Well, neither do most dogs.

One of the things people do best is complain. And, some complaints needs to be registered. But, another thing us humans don't do so well is spontaneously express our gratitude and appreciation when things are 'okay' not to mention when they go awesomely.

So, please, the next time you enjoy a hike; The next time you meet a well-mannered dog (or just notice one); The next time things are 'just okay' during your visit to open space; The next time you notice a well-cared for trail; The next time you see a person pick up their dog's poop or hand another person an extra bag; The next time you enjoy a hike with your dog. PLEASE SHARE YOUR APPRECIATION with the folks at OSMP.

Really, just like the rest of us, OSMP needs to hear the good stuff, which I am absolutely certain we experience in great abundance.

Click herehttp://bit.ly/fiOfgC to leave OSMP a note of appreciation.