With off-leash dogs no longer allowed on Blackmer, volunteers double down on doggie bags at Steamboat’s Rita Valentine Park | SteamboatToday.com

With off-leash dogs no longer allowed on Blackmer, volunteers double down on doggie bags at Steamboat’s Rita Valentine Park

Rich Danter cleans up dog waste at Rita Valentine Park while his dog, Crispy Creme, a Labrador and golden retriever mix, watches in 2017. The park has seen more use since off-leash dogs are no longer allowed on Blackmer Trail. (File photo by Teresa Ristow)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the month since Blackmer Trail was removed from the city of Steamboat Springs’ trial off-leash program, other off-leash dog areas, including Rita Valentine and Whistler parks, have seen an uptick in use.

At the recommendation of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Steamboat Springs City Council voted last year to no longer allow dogs off leash on the popular Emerald Mountain trail. Starting Jan. 1, dogs on Blackmer must be leashed.

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 steamboatsprings.net/614/Off-Leash.

“There’s been an increase in the use of trash receptacles and dog waste bio-bags — poop bags — at Rita Valentine Park,” said Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby. “We’ve actually received a few calls from residents near Whistler Park asking … to plow the parking lot there because people utilizing the off-leash area are parking within their neighborhood and causing congestion.”

Steamboat Digs Dogs President Kathy Connell said the organization has started refilling dog waste bags at Rita Valentine Park every other day. Digs Dogs spent more than $8,000 on biodegradable waste bags in 2018, she said.

Cosby said the city is investigating plowing the lot, though if city plows did push snow from the lot at Whistler Park, it would be low priority on the plow route.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Commander Annette Dopplick said getting the public to comply with the new law has been a challenge, but that this is the case with off-leash dogs across the city.

“People obeying the change from off-leash to on-leash at Blackmer isn’t always being followed, and that, I think, is expected,” Cosby said. “We’re about four weeks into the new law now, so obviously that’s going to take some time to help educate and enforce with everyone.”

Animal control officers and Steamboat Digs Dogs volunteers worked to educate the public about the change over the holidays, Dopplick said. She said animal control officers maintained a presence on Blackmer almost every day for the first two weeks of January.

Dopplick said police have received both positive and negative feedback on the change.

“There is definitely an awareness of the requirement,” Dopplick said. “There are folks that are appreciative. We’ve had a number of citizens who’ve gone out of their way to contact animal control to thank them for doing the enforcement. We’ve also had members of our community who have expressed their dismay at the ordinance.”

Connell said many people are angry at the new rule.

“There’s a need for people to be able to exercise their dogs within the city limits and recreate with them,” she said, adding that some pet owners don’t have time to head out of town to exercise their dog before work or on a lunch break.

She’d like to see use spread out.

“If we don’t put our heads together and recognize we need places, we’re going to be in trouble here,” she said.

The Parks and Recreation Commission is slated to consider a new off-leash area to replace Blackmer and a slew of other dog-related issues at its Feb. 13 and 27 meetings.

In the meantime, Cosby and Dopplick remind pet owners to obey leash laws.

“Please do obey the law,” Cosby said. “We want to be fair to everybody in giving a fair amount of time to help educate and make people aware of the change, but the law changed for a reason. We really hope people will use any of the other off-leash areas to recreate with their dogs off leash. Otherwise, continue enjoying time at Blackmer with your dog on leash.”

Dogs also are not allowed in either the downhill or Nordic portions of Howelsen Hill Ski Area. Those skinning up Emerald Mountain are reminded to keep their dogs on leash or leave them at home.

“One of the themes that our animal control officers are hearing is ‘I brought my animal up on a leash, and we’re skiing down with the dog off a leash,’” Dopplick said. “I’d like to remind our community that’s not permissible.”

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

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