It’s hard not to crack a smile when you see a dog running wild, tongue and ears flapping in the breeze.
Since Feb. 28, local canines aren’t running quite as free, since El Paso County Parks reinstated a leash law that requires dogs to be on a leash at all times in parks and on trails.
According to Brian Bobeck, park operations manager for El Paso County Parks, the change in the leash law helps the department maintain an overall goal to “provide a safe and enjoyable experience for all users while also protecting wildlife.”
In 2017, the county introduced a pilot program that allowed dogs to be off leash, but under owner’s voice control. Since then, the Parks office has received 81 unsolicited calls complaining about the rule. Calls included reports of bite incidents, dogs off leash attacking dogs on leash and dogs chasing wildlife.
County staff, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region, law enforcement and park visitors also found that the rule regarding “control” of a dog was subjective and difficult to interpret and enforce. Also confusing was the variance in the law related to public lands. “If you were hiking on the Santa Fe Trail, the law could change from Colorado Springs Parks requiring a leash, then entering county parks not requiring a leash, then entering Air Force Academy property where a leash is required,” said Bobeck. Now, the law is more consistent.
Prior to the change, EPC Parks initiated a public input process, soliciting calls and emails for feedback on the local leash laws. About 60 percent of respondents were in support of changing the law, and 40 percent against. The issue then was presented to the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which unanimously approved the new leash law, followed by the commissioners, who also approved it unanimously.
County Park security officers started with soft enforcement of the new ordinance in an effort to educate, with warnings. Now that the weather is warming up, officers will step up the enforcement. Officers can write tickets with a fine of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $150 for further violations.
Bobeck said overall, the new law is a positive change, with most people complying, and though the problem has not been solved, it has improved.
As far as complaints go, Bobeck said since the new law passed, it has been “pretty quiet.” To report issues related to off-leash dogs, call El Paso County Parks and Recreation at 520-7529 or the Humane Society at 302-8798.
City parks like North Cheyenne Cañon already have leash laws in place. Rebecca MacNamee, president of Friends of Cheyenne Cañon, said on a typical day in the park, she will see some dogs off leash, but not to a point that it’s out of control. MacNamee said wildlife can pose a threat to off-leash dogs, like rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats and bears. While North Cheyenne Cañon does not have an off-leash dog park, other nearby parks do, including Bear Creek Dog Park and Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
The City’s Parks Maintenance and Operations Manager Kurt Schroeder said that in his 37 years of working for El Paso County and Colorado Springs parks, the No. 1 complaint he receives is about off-leash dogs, including dogs being bitten by rattlesnakes at Ute Valley Park. While conducting trail maintenance last spring, Woods encountered four rattlesnakes in one day. Rattlesnakes are most active in warmer weather, from April through October.
The county does provide fenced-in dog parks at Fox Run, Bear Creek and Falcon parks where dogs can frolic off leash. EPC Parks had a soft opening March 15 for the new Falcon Park Dog Park, with funding assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado. The official grand opening was Saturday and featured a ribbon cutting, information tent and speakers, including County Commissioner Mark Waller. Another new dog park at Fountain Creek Park is scheduled to open to the public in late May.
All of the county’s dog parks are completely fenced in. Bobeck said park users should respect all user groups on public lands, and he also made a plea for pet owners to clean up after dogs, as pet waste is an ongoing issue in the parks.