The trial period for off-leash dog areas in Steamboat has expired, technically speaking.
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission discussed off-leash areas during its meeting on Wednesday, May 12, but has yet to decide what recommendation to provide to Steamboat Springs City Council about the next steps.
A two-year trial period for off-leash areas in Steamboat began in 2018 and expired in 2020, but repealing the off-leash designations requires a decision by city council, so the trial period is still in effect until a formal decision states otherwise.
Off-leash dog recreation is permitted under the trial period at Sailors Way, Butcherknife Trail and Whistler Park. Rita Valentine Park and the lower pond of Spring Creek Park were both approved as off-leash dog parks and are not under a trial period.
Whistler Park was described as the off-leash area with the highest frequency of complaints.
Steamboat Springs Police Chief Sherry Burlingame provided the commission with stats on service calls to the off-leash areas, saying there have been eight calls for dog bites in off-leash areas since 2019. Of those eight, four happened at Whistler Park, two at Rita Valentine and two at Spring Creek.
Supporters of those dog leash areas pointed out that the reports don’t clarify if they were dog-on-dog bites or dogs biting humans, while Burlingame warned that bites are likely underreported, especially when medical care isn’t required.
Parks and Recreation staff presented concerns to the commission over the frequency of complaints at Whistler Park, not just for bites but complaints in general.
“I do think Whistler Park needs additional evaluation on how to improve it,” said Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby. “There’s enough complaints there, the site is so highly used.”
The commission could recommend nixing one of the areas in the next phase.
“If you just suddenly take (an off-leash area) away, you’re gonna have everybody violating the law because they want to play with their dogs,” said Kathy Connell, president of Steamboat Digs Dogs, a local nonprofit that has advocated and fundraised for off-leash areas in Steamboat.
If removed, Whistler would not be the first to be returned to a leashed park.
After an initial one-year trial period in 2017, Blackmer Drive was removed from the subsequent two-year trial because city council became concerned with the frequency of interactions between off-leash dogs and recreators and wildlife, including an incident in which an off- leash dog attacked an elk.
If the city wants to continue the trial period as is, officials could theoretically do nothing and maintain the status quo, but Cosby wouldn’t recommend that strategy because, she said, “it’s not good practice.“
Instead, over the next couple of months, the Parks and Recreation Commission will prepare a recommendation for council.
The commission members agreed to attach measurable outcomes of success to their recommendation, which may include goals such as reducing the number of complaints.
They expect to spend another couple of months preparing their recommendation, which according to the commissioners, may include ending or extending the trial period, or recommending that some of the areas should be granted permanent off-leash designations while others remain in the trial areas.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com