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Pooch park project approved

Geraldine Haldner

Bighorn Park in East Vail – first designated an off-leash dog park in 2001 – is officially going to the dogs.

Despite at least one critic saying pooches and peoples don’t mix in the same park, council members unanimously gave the concept a big thumbs up.

Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz credited Blondie Vucich, an advocate of the dog park two years ago, as the woman behind the park’s popularity and success.

“She really took the dog by the horns and got the job done,” Kurz said.

Vucich, an East Vail Resident for 15 years who first brought the idea to the council two years ago, since has created a neighborhood watchdog group of about 20 dog owners, who police the park against unattended poop piles and aggressive dog behavior.

Vucich said the watch-dog group has been essential to keep the park from acquiring a bad reputation.

Sybill Navas, another East Vail resident, dog owner and former town councilwoman, said the park has become more than just a place to go and let the dog run.

“I meet more people there in a day than I meet anywhere else I can think off,” she said, characterizing the park as a place to “build community.”

Other dog owners and park users said the leash-off concept allows dogs to interact and become socialized with humans and other canines, while children learn how to safely behave around a dog.

But Ann Louthan, a critic of the pet park project, said the abundance of dogs is scaring away other park users.

“I find that it is now a dog’s park; it is not a children’s park anymore,” she said, using an example in which two small children were accosted by a large dog and the owner only stood by.

In the event criticism would outweigh compliments, Todd Oppenheimer, the town’s landscape architect, has authored a three-page memo on dog parks.

He says the park’s designation “has very few problems associated with it from a maintenance point of view, as well as with law enforcement.”

Indeed, the Vail Police Department received three complaints regarding misbehaving dogs, and Eagle County Animal Control issued just one citation in the park’s two-year-old history as a dog park. By comparison, Stephen’s Park in West Vail was the cite of nine citations in 2002.

That’s exactly why several West Vail residents jumped on the opportunity to ask the council to expand the leash-less park designation to Stephen’s Park, which in Town Councilman Chuck Ogilby’s words “has been used as a de-facto dog park ever since it was made.”

The unofficial status, several West Vail residents said, has lead to unpleasant run-ins with animal control officers.

Tim Winn, who lives on South Frontage Road in West Vail and owns a St. Bernard puppy, agreed to be “the Blondie of West Vail” if the council would designate Stephen’s Park a dog park.

“It would be a great asset to our neighborhood,” he said. “And we, who live there, would make it work.”

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to make Stephen’s Park a dog park on a one-year trial basis.

“And two years later we’ll formalize it,” Kurz quipped in reference to the fact that Bighorn Park’s designation has been put in place for year and didn’t resurface on the council’s radar until now.

Winn said the West Vail neighborhood will value the designation as a leash-free park because it will allow pet owners to stay within the law.

“I wonder if I can get out of my $150 ticket now,” Winn said of a citation he was issued just days ago.

Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com.


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