Dogs won this round but other users need to be considered, too
January 8, 2016
Let’s be clear at the outset. This is a First World Problem. Other communities around the country are grappling with mass shootings, poverty, racism and failing economies. Here in Park City we are dealing with leash laws and recreation-related skirmishes.
The tempest in our little teapot seems to have reached a boiling point this winter, and this week local elected officials swung into action. Thursday night, the Park City Council voted to allow unleashed pets on approximately 1,400 acres of land it controls in Round Valley and also on half of the Library Field in Park City. The law takes effect Jan. 15.
Dog owners are howling with delight. Other recreation users not so much.
The proposal was broached in mid-December during the busy holiday season, which means many people especially other trail users in Round Valley — may be surprised by the quick reversal. Previously dogs were required to be on leashes throughout Summit County except in a couple of designated dog parks.
But it is safe to say that when it comes to restraining their pets, a large percentage of otherwise respectable residents have always been outlaws. Parkites seem to take perverse pride in sending their Labradors out on the trail (and around town) as advance scouts. They bound through the snow breaking trail for their human companions and routinely sniff out the best parties by checking out the neighborhood trash cans. They are immortalized on Facebook posts, calendars and saloon logos, giving rise to the town’s well-known nickname of Bark City.
So rather than ask people to change their behavior and follow the law, the Council apparently decided it was more politically prudent, in this case, to change the law to reflect people’s behavior.
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We’ll see how that works out. Unfortunately, we are not optimistic and expect a backlash from myriad other special-interest trail users.
The new rule raises serious questions about consistency and fairness. While there used to be plenty of open space for everyone, trail users these days are tripping over each other due to Summit County’s ever-increasing population and the proliferation of new backcountry winter sports. Hikers feel they are being pushed off the trail by cross country skiers, skiers are getting tangled up with loose dogs and, now, snow bikers are adding another potentially conflicting element to the mix.
It is unrealistic to expect the old "can’t we all just get along" policy to hold up under the pressure.
Instead of unleashing all of its land in Round Valley, the city should have taken more time to draw a tighter boundary, leaving some of that publically supported land for local taxpayers who prefer not to encounter loose dogs.
In the meantime, as we have suggested before, Mountain Trails Foundation should seriously consider designating more trails for specific uses based on user feedback.
As much as we might like to go back to the days of the Wild West, we have come to love our groomed trails, sophisticated sports equipment and semi-domesticated pets. That means we are going to have to divvy up the trails in a way that gives everyone a chance to enjoy them.