Members of the County Park Commission committee on dogs were at the Gallatin County Regional Park this weekend, surveying park users and hoping to learn more about how people use the park with their dogs.
The committee members are concerned that dog owners may lose yet another off-leash area. They hope the survey will help them change the park’s master plan to keep the entire park off-leash or at least increase the size of the current off-leash area.
“It was never just a dog park to begin with and now problems are being caused by the high amount of traffic,” said the county’s conservation and parks director Mike Harris.
According to County Park Commission documents, the regional park’s master plan was adopted on Nov. 28, 2007, and included a roughly 4-acre, fenced-in dog park near the southeast corner of Kendeda Lake. That fenced-in area was never established.
And although many dog owners believe the park is OK for dogs to be off leash, Harris said as the plan currently stands, much of the park’s 100 acres of land and trails probably will have leash requirements in the future.
“I got a call this morning from a woman who was walking around the lakes and said two aggressive dogs scared her. She wanted to know more about the park’s rules because the dog owners told her if she was scared of dogs she shouldn’t come to a dog park.”
Janet Melvin, a member of the subcommittee, said information from the survey will be used to come up with proposals for the commission that controls the park’s master plan.
“The park got adopted by accident by dog owners because there were no signs; people just started using it as a dog park,” said Melvin.
Melvin said many people had no idea what the park’s plan was until a map was posted this spring.
“Its always been planned as a multi-use park, and had an enclosed area for dogs to be off leash,” Harris said.
“And the other piece of this is the people with kids who started using the hill for sledding. In the winter that parking lot is fuller than it is in the summer,” said Melvin.
The hill Melvin is referring to is fenced off now but is planned to become an amphitheater.
“We’re getting information from dog owners about how they feel about this, and we’re hoping at a future meeting we’re going to get a lot more of that land set aside for dogs,” Melvin said.
“I got started this spring because I had a huge concern when they posted a sign about fencing off the ponds entirely,” said Melvin.
The plastic fencing in place now is part of a temporary plan to stop the park’s environmental degradation.
“When we first opened the park, the grass was waist deep,” said Harris. “But when you have that much use by people and dogs, the ground gets compacted and grass doesn’t grow. Then we had two years drought that just broke off what grass was left.”
The high amount of use at the regional park is due in part to adoption of leash laws in several city parks.
“The city … had the same problems we’re having with dogs off leash and people not picking up after their animals,” said Harris. “Then the city went through and systematically closed their parks to dogs. Now it’s just Peets Hill, Cooper Park, and Snowfill.”
“The toughest part is that most people think the city of Bozeman owns it,” said Harris. “The regional park does not receive any money from the city or county; the majority of the money is privately raised and the work is all volunteer.”
Kylie Izzi, an assistant athletic trainer at Bozeman High School, was at the park on Saturday morning and filled out the survey.
“When I have the opportunity to pick what parks I want to be in I pick this one because my dog can run and swim,” said Izzi. “This is a great place. I can ride my bike, I can run, I can bring my dog, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“The water feature seems to be something people definitely want,” said Harris.
On June 19, the County Park Commission approved an ordinance banning dogs from the park’s beach, leading to a waist-high, chain-link fence being installed around the sand.
Nicole Layman, vice-president of Friends of Regional Parks (FOR Parks) said at some point the county parks commission will need to have a larger discussion about how they will implement the full vision of the park as outlined in the plan.
With the nominal amount of money the county spends on the regional park and the limited resources of FOR Parks, the plans implementation seems far off.
For their part, the subcommittee’s survey asks if dog-owners would be willing to help finance the park’s dog-related maintenance.
“Since [the survey’s] purpose is to help write the new master plan, I think our purpose is to find out about all the positions on dogs,” said Mary Vant Hull, member of FOR Parks.
“I’m confident that many non-dog owners love dogs, have had dogs, have visitors who love dogs, and the committee therefore wants everyone to fill out the survey,” said Vant Hull.
The survey can be found online at http://esurv.org/online-survey.php?surveyID=OCNKKI_4b161956