Park district and dog owners look for solution

By Meg Olson

Dog owners were out in force at the last parks board meeting to defend their ability to let their dogs off the leash at Baker Field.

Current and former primary school employees brought up the issue at the July parks district meeting, complaining of increasing amounts of dog waste and safety concerns with kids and bikes mixing with off-leash dogs. At the August 14 meeting, commissioners told a dozen dog owners in attendance that they had no intention of unilaterally ending the off-leash program at the park, but wanted to work collaboratively so the concerns and needs of all users were addressed.

“Some dog owners have neglected their responsibility, but not all dog owners,” said chair Linda Hughes. “Many of you are very responsible. The issue is with the other 1 percent is causing a huge problem.”

Commissioner Bennett Blaustein added that commissioners “… very much want to hear from all parties.”

Dog owners attending the meeting were mostly members of an informal “dog park” group that meets at the park in the afternoons. “We’re only there for one hour a day and we are all very diligent to pick up our poop,” said one.

Commissioner Stephen Falk wondered why this had become an issue now when it had not been in the past; Hughes pointed out that since local sheriff deputies began aggressive enforcement of county leash laws in Point Roberts, it had pushed dog owners to use the Baker Field property more.

“The parks district came to a point where we made it formal and official,” Hughes recounted, for dogs to be allowed off leash during certain hours.

“Do we believe it’s the case there wasn’t a problem until we started our dog park?” one audience member asked. “Yes,” Hughes answered. “That is the evidence the school presented.” When the dog park was closer to the school, the amount of poop on kids’ shoes went up.

Dog owner Steve Martindale said part of the issue might be finding the right spot for the off-leash dog park. They had at first gathered near the picnic tables, then moved to the far side of the field to address school concerns about dog waste.

Once there, they were closer to neighboring properties and started getting complaints about dogs roaming into horse paddocks, so they moved again.

“Dog owners have been trying to be responsive,” he said.

“I think a fenced dog park is a great solution,” Hughes said. There is sufficient property for the dog area to be large and attractive and “a great use of parks property.” She added her suggestion was not to fence off any portion of Baker Field itself, but another section of the park property.

Hughes added that another group was working to set up a dog park on private land and if that project happens, the idea of a fenced dog park on parks land may be moot.

With the school year set to begin, Blaustein said they could take some temporary measures while they pursued a fencing option, including closing off trails on the east side of the field to deter getting close to properties with horses and moving the dog group away from the school. The committee also discussed more regular mowing so dog droppings are easier to spot and pick up.

Hughes apologized if statements made at the July meeting and quoted in the All Point Bulletin gave the impression the board did not support a dog park at Baker Field. “We do support a dog park; we all have,” she said. “It was going to be a fluid experiment and this is where we’re at in that experiment. It’s going to evolve until we find what works best for everyone.”

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