‘Poop patrol’ aims to fix park waste issue
VAIL — It was quickly determined the dog owners who spoke at the Vail Town Council’s regular meeting Tuesday were not part of the problem in Stephens Park. By the time the discussion was done, they would be identified as part of the solution.
Responding to growing complaints about dog waste in the park, which has an off-leash area, council members agreed restricting dog access to Stephens Park is not being discussed as an option at this point. But a condition that could take them further down that path does exist, and a neighborhood watch of sorts will be prescribed as part of the remedy.
That condition, as described by Vail Parks Maintenance manager Rick Gregory, is “a world of poop” that is not limited to Stephens Park, but for some reason is worse there than the other parks in town.
“Once a week I’ll weed whip poop in my face, in my mouth, on my body, it’s all over our equipment,” Gregory said. “You can’t step into, I guarantee, a single turf area managed by the town of Vail that doesn’t have a pile of poop in it. But it is more of a problem in Stephens Park, for my staff and for the community, than any other park.”
Gregory suggested the problem was due to the Intermountain neighborhood near Stephens Park having fewer year-round residents than other neighborhoods with parks. But Intermountain resident Jane Taylor said the Stephens Park waste situation was due to higher numbers of dogs in the park in general.
“Hundreds of dogs go there in a week,” Taylor said. “So to find dog poops on occasion is a really a good job to the people who have picked up after their dog.”
The problem, however, is not limited to Stephens Park and dog waste, council members and staff pointed out.
Council member Greg Moffet reminded attendees that menacing behavior from dogs was also one of the issues that promoted Tuesday’s discussion.
“For me, that’s a bigger issue, that’s a public safety issue,” Moffet said. “And I’m not sure how to handle it, I wish I had an answer.”
Council member Kim Langmaid said the issue spreads across the community.
“There’s dog poop everywhere now,” she said. “The beginnings of trails are looking pretty bad, especially in the spring.”
Gregory said dogs off leash can regularly be found at all of Vail’s parks, not just Stephens and Bighorn, where town laws allow for it.
“We’re all kidding ourselves if we (don’t think) every park in Vail is a leash-free park,” Gregory said. “I’m in most parks every week and I rarely see a dog that’s on a leash in a park and I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Taylor said she picks up any dog waste she finds, as do many of her neighbors, which is a solution in itself. In offering other solutions, she suggested scoopers and shovels be available as well as the bags that are currently at dog parks.
“Because those little bags, I know because I’ve picked up so much, you go down in there and it’s all sloppy and you just can’t get at it,” she said.
Taylor also applauded the suggestion that the park not be listed as a dog park on Google Maps. A quick search of “Vail dog parks” lists Stephens Park among the top rated parks, along with Bighorn Park, which is nine miles away in East Vail.
In considering options, council members suggested that Taylor lead an ad hoc community task force. Council members also favored Taylor’s idea that shovels be available. Bighorn Park was also mentioned by council members and staff as dog-friendly park that has set a good example with the surrounding community working together to keep the park off-leash accessible.
“I love the idea of the Stephens Park community getting together … to create that poop patrol,” council member Jenn Bruno said. “This is one of these great moments where you can learn from Bighorn and find a way to work together as a community to keep the park privilege.”
Paul Cuthbertson set out by himself around 3 p.m. Friday from the trailhead that leads up to the Polar Star Inn, according to his father, Mike, but never made it to the popular backcountry hut as a late-spring snowstorm moved in.