Commission recommends extending trial periods for Steamboat’s off-leash dog areas |

Commission recommends extending trial periods for Steamboat’s off-leash dog areas

Animal Control Officer Krista Amatuzio gives a written warning to a woman who let her dog run off leash at Whistler Park in May 2017. The city is considering extending the trial periods for off-leash dog areas in Steamboat Springs, including those at Whistler.
Scott Franz/Steamboat Pilot & Today

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, Dec. 14, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission approved recommending extending the trial periods for off-leash dog area policies on the Butcherknife and Sailors Way trails, and at Whistler Park.

The off-leash trial periods will next appear before City Council for review.

After discussing the trial periods for off-leash dog areas for the third time, the commission agreed to recommend extending the trial periods by two years, while providing additional signage to help mitigate interactions between off-leash dogs and wildlife, especially at Whistler Park. 

“Whistler does seem to have more problems than anywhere else,” said Steamboat Springs Police Chief Sherry Burlingame. 

The police chief presented animal control data on dog-related service calls in those three areas from January 2018 to November. 

According to that data, there have been nine wildlife incidents at Whistler Park since the beginning of 2018, while the other two areas only had one such incident.

That same data showed there have been 11 dog bite incidents at Whistler Park since January 2018, eight of which involved humans. Sailor’s Way only had one reported dog bite, while the Butcherknife Trail and Stehley Park area had three, including a dog that reportedly bit a goat. 

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Still, Burlingame said dog-at-large calls are her department’s biggest concern.

According to data from the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Butcherknife Trail and Stehley Park area had 125 dog-at-large offenses reported since January 2018, while Whistler Park had 94 and Sailor’s Way had only three. 

A pie chart breaking down animal control calls at the city’s off-leash dog areas.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy

Burlingame said the data her department provided will be useful when reviewing the city’s off-leash policies in the future, as comparisons can be made after new rules and strategies are implemented.  

The city’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson told the commission that more public outreach and education is needed, and there’s public confusion, particularly at Whistler Park, where the seasonality of off-leash polices is different across various parcels of the property. 

Burlingame told commissioners she expects additional staffing of community service officers and a community service supervisor that oversees animal control will increase the city’s ability to educate the public regarding off-leash policies. 

The Parks and Recreation Department considered installing a permanent fence at Whistler Park to separate the off-leash area but wasn’t able to form an agreement with the Steamboat Springs School District, which owns the property. The school board is still considering using the property for dedicated teacher housing, among other options. 

Commissioners all supported extending the three trial periods for two years and entertained the idea of designating Butcherknife Trail and Sailor’s Way Trail as long-term off-leash areas, while keeping Whistler in a trial period. However, concerns were raised about potential conflicts in the future, as the usage of city trails evolves over time, such as with e-bikes.

Ultimately, the commission agreed to recommend the same extension for all three areas and directed city staff to install additional signage at Whistler Park.

“And some literary classes for the wildlife,” joked Calder Young, chair of the parks and recreation commission.

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