A dog’s life

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

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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