Park City throws dog owners a 1,400-acre bone | ParkRecord.com

Park City throws dog owners a 1,400-acre bone

Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

Park City leaders on Thursday tossed a bone to dog owners.

And it is a big one.

The Park City Council unanimously declared a large swath of Round Valley an off-leash area, opening the beloved acreage to people who want to run their pets. It was perhaps the greatest victory won by dog owners in Park City after years of disputes about leash laws and locations for a dog park.

The Round Valley land, acquired by City Hall for conservation purposes and popular with hikers, bicyclists, snowshoers and cross-country skiers, covers approximately 1,400 acres of land stretching outward from the edge of Park Meadows. There are numerous popular trails in Round Valley, and off-leash dogs were for years regularly seen there. A portion of the land in Round Valley was left out of the off-leash area. Some of that land is located outside the Park City limits while other acreage is privately held by the Osguthorpe family. City Hall plans to approach Summit County leaders about turning the land outside the Park City limits into an off-leash area.

The City Council also opted to turn half of the field outside the Park City Library, another popular place for dog owners, into an off-leash area. The elected officials, meanwhile, updated City Hall’s laws to allow off-leash areas inside Park City and allow the use of electronic collars. The decision is effective Jan. 15. City Hall staffers before then plan to post signs and conduct a public relations blitz explaining the off-leash areas.

City Hall staffers anticipate returning to the elected officials in April to provide an update on the off-leash areas. A more formal evaluation of them is planned in July.

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Dog owners put pressure on City Hall recently as Summit County Animal Control stepped up enforcement of leash laws. The decision to set aside the two places as off-leash areas made over the course of a little more than a month was finalized more quickly than many other City Hall decisions regarding the use of public property. There appeared to be widespread support for the move, but the elected officials on Thursday also heard opposition.

The supporters argued that dogs need lots of space for proper exercise and Round Valley is an attractive place for a large off-leash area. Park City has a dog park close to Quinn’s Junction, but it does not draw large crowds and is criticized for its smallish size and remote location. Dog were instead regularly seen off leashes in Round Valley, at the field outside the library and elsewhere in Park City.

The elected officials took nearly an hour of testimony on Thursday from 24 people. The speakers were divided as some of them backed the idea for the off-leash areas while others outlined concerns.

Alison Child said she has brought dogs to Round Valley for 35 years. The acreage has worked well as a place to run dogs, she said.

"Happy people, happy dogs," Child said.

Carolyn Frankenburg wondered whether limitations could be placed on mountain bikers in Round Valley if there are limitation on dogs. She said she has had more run-ins with mountain bikers than with dogs. Lisa Wilson said it is good for dogs to have freedom. Wilson said many of the issues in Round Valley could involve visitors rather than Parkites and more education is needed. Sharon Christiansen, speaking about the field outside the library, said dog owners and others coexist on the greenspace and there is not a need for it to be divided between an off-leash area and a leashed area.

"People pretty much self-regulate," she said.

The critics of an off-leash area in Round Valley broached topics like the safety of people and whether there will be issues involving off-leash dogs and wildlife.

Tina Smith, an opponent, mentioned that a mountain lion recently put down in the Snyderville Basin was destroyed after an encounter with off-leash dogs. One of the dogs was killed and the other one was injured.

"The wildlife always loses," Smith said.

Lynn Morrow, who has a severe leg injury, said she once enjoyed trails but stopped using them based on a fear that a dog could jump on her injured leg. She wanted other trails to be declared off limits to dogs if Round Valley was made an off-leash area.

"I pay taxes and dogs don’t," Morrow said.

The elected officials discussed adopting times when the library field would be an off-leash area, but decided against time restrictions. They also talked about a task force considering areas where off-leash dogs would be prohibited and mentioned whether Round Valley could be split between off-leash space and land where leashes would be required.

Andy Beerman, a City Councilor, acknowledged the decision was an "imperfect solution" and noted that the off-leash areas are a pilot program.

There will be restrictions in the off-leash areas, including that an owner must have "voice and sight control" of the dog at all times, according to a City Hall report prepared in anticipation of the meeting. Other laws regulating dogs, including prohibiting dog attacks and requiring people to clean up dog waste, also remain in effect in off-leash areas. Dogs are also not allowed to chase people, other dogs or wildlife.