In the dog house: Steamboat looks to increase leash law enforcement |

In the dog house: Steamboat looks to increase leash law enforcement

Birdie, a yellow Labrador, runs ahead of black Lab Bowen and owners Julia Kapustka and Becca Fitzpatrick at the Whistler Park off-leash area on Sunday afternoon. The city of Steamboat Springs is looking to add another off-leash area as off-leash dogs are no longer allowed on Blackmer Drive.  (Photo by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Off-leash dogs are having their day — in court.

After concerns arose as the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the municipal court were unable to track repeat offenders, dog owners cited for having a dog off leash will now have to appear in court.

At a glance

The following areas allow dogs off leash permanently and under the city’s trial program:

  • Rita Valentine Park
  • Whistler Park (seasonal restrictions in some areas)
  • Spring Creek Lower Pond
  • Lower Spring Creek Trail
  • Butcherknife Trail (time of day restrictions)

For maps and more information about seasonal and time restrictions, visit the city’s website at

The city of Steamboat Springs has been working to better enforce leash laws in the city, and last week, the subject was the topic of a Parks and Recreation Commission work session on dog-related issues in the city. The commission also addressed adding a new off-leash area.

“All off-leash enforcement actions are now a summons to court,” Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson explained to the Steamboat Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday, Feb. 13. “When you go out there, instead of getting an option to pay the ticket or go to court, you can’t just pay a ticket. You have to go to court when you receive a summons.”

In allowing violators to pay tickets without appearing before court, the city was unable to track how many times an owner was cited for having a dog off leash. Now, when a person is convicted for having a dog at large, the municipal court assigns the appropriate fines based on the number of offenses, and the city can take note if a dog owner has multiple violations.

The fee for a first offense is $50, $75 for a second offense and $100 for each at-large dog conviction thereafter. The Parks and Recreation Commission is set to consider recommending an increase to these fines and establishing penalties for violating trail closures to the Steamboat Springs City Council, likely at its next dog-related work session Feb. 27.

The commission might also seek funding from City Council to establish what has been nicknamed a “dog ranger” that would educate the public using off-leash areas and help enforce the city’s rules, much like river rangers do on the Yampa. Currently, Steamboat Digs Dogs volunteers trained by Steamboat Police are working in the role and bearing the brunt of non-compliant dog owners’ wrath when they’re asked to pick up their pooch’s poo, according to Steamboat Digs Dogs President Kathy Connell.

The work session also addressed possible additions to the city’s trial off-leash program after City Council determined Blackmer Drive would no longer be part of the program.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will consider allowing off-leash dogs seasonally on Blackmer, with input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, at a future meeting.

Since off-leash dogs are no longer allowed on Blackmer, other off-leash areas in the city are seeing more use. The Parks and Recreation Commission is set to determine a new off-leash area to replace Blackmer, but it has not yet settled on a recommendation.

Areas in the running now are Bear River Park, Tamarack Sneak Natural Area, Lithia Springs and the Blue Sage Trail. Though the areas are under consideration, off-leash dogs are not currently allowed in these locations.

Each comes with caveats. For one, all are open space areas, not trails.

Bear River Park is under remediation as part of it is a decommissioned wastewater lagoon. The area that could become a dog park won’t be able to be open to the public until the grass has fully grown back. That could be as early as this summer, but that possibility is literally dependent on waiting for the grass to grow. The area is fenced on three sides, and the Parks and Recreation Commission expressed interest in the area for a fenced, off-leash dog park.

Tamarack Sneak is smaller in area than what Parks and Recreation Commissioners had hoped for to replace Blackmer, though they said it could be a candidate for a fenced off-leash park for little dogs. The area also has limited parking.

The Parks and Recreation Commission wanted to hear more information from Routt County Humane Society, a neighbor of Lithia Springs, on the concept of an off-leash area downhill from the spring.

The Blue Sage Trail would require negotiating easements with homeowners associations, and there are concerns for nearby public works and water operations.

The Parks and Recreation Commission also considered creating a Voice and Sight Control program, but at least one commission member, alternate Calder Young, wanted to see a fenced dog park to help train dogs established first.

Parks and Wildlife has advocated for a fenced dog park, which representatives of the agency said would allow dog owners more time to respond to wildlife and to create a boundary between humans, their dogs and wildlife.

“I know people want to recreate with their dogs,” Young said. “I don’t blame anybody. I feel the same way. It’s great to do that. There are a lot of options with a leash, and you can recreate with your dog with a leash. You can. It’s possible.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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