Commission recommends removing Blackmere from off-leash dogs trial program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The off-leash dog days on Blackmere Trail might soon be over.
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission recommended removing Blackmere Trail from the city’s trial off-leash program after listening to impassioned public comment during a meeting Wednesday night. If approved by City Council, off-leash dogs will no longer be allowed on Blackmere starting Jan. 1, 2019. The commission hopes to replace Blackmere with a different off-leash trail in another area by the same date.
The decision was based on a recommendation from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which determined that the Emerald Mountain trail offered a high probability of conflicts between dogs and wildlife. During public comment, a resident of the neighborhood expressed concern that off-leash dogs wandered into her yard. One dog even wandered into Commissioner Sarah Floyd’s home.
“I would probably agree that Blackmere should not continue with the program,” said Kady Kocik. “With that being said, I think there has been a lot of success and a lot of movement, and I hope that these groups working together can even escalate this program beyond what it is today with all the hard work everybody has done.”
Commissioners also recommended increased enforcement of leash laws in the form of additional police officers.
Steamboat Springs Police Department Commander Annette Dopplick said the agency has a difficult time enforcing leash laws and investigating animal complaints in the evenings because animal control officers only work days. At night, regular patrol officers are charged with looking into animal complaints.
“When the officers are on a domestic (violence report) and there’s an off-leash dog concern, I’ll tell you where the priority goes,” she told the commission.
The commission also expressed interest in the Yellow Dog program brought forward by the Routt County Humane Society. The program would have dogs, which need space due to training concerns, age, injury or anxiety, wearing yellow flags on their leashes alerting people to ask permission before approaching the dog.
Floyd also requested that the Parks and Recreation Department mow a currently un-mowed portion of Whistler Park to improve the user experience in the dog park.
Members of the Routt County Humane Society and Steamboat Digs Dogs showed up in force at the meeting. The two groups are in contention regarding off-leash trails, though both called for increasing education and enforcement, improved signage and moving toward fenced dog parks in the city.
“This is a huge people problem, not a dog problem in our community,” said Laura Brewer, chair of the Humane Society’s animal welfare committee.
The Humane Society spoke against the off-leash dog program due to concerns regarding owner compliance, conflicts with wildlife and other users and what the organization considers a lack of sufficient research.
“To adapt the attitudes and change the culture takes time,” said Steamboat Digs Dog’s Kathy Connell. “Education is something that we start — which we’re starting — and we do more of it, and it takes time. That’s what we’re trying to do here, is change the culture of what it is to own a dog and recreate a dog in Steamboat.”
Ultimately, the commission recommended that the trial period, excluding Blackmere, continues for two years. Off-leash dogs will still be allowed in Whistler Park, Butcherknife Trail and the Lower Spring Creek Trail.
City Council will consider the commission’s recommendation at its Sept. 4 meeting. The recommendation must earn the council’s approval to be implemented.
Steamboat Digs Dogs will provide an annual update on the trial next year.
“I’m fine with two years, because I always know this is a trial period that can be stopped at any point in time,” said Commissioner Doug Tumminello.
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At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Yampa River’s temperature was 72 degrees at a spot in the Chuck Lewis Wildlife Area south of Steamboat. That’s about 15 degrees higher than the typical average.