Town of Vail may reinstate leash laws at Stephens Park in West Vail
VAIL — Stephens Park is not a dog park. It’s a park where dogs can frolic off-leash, but in harmony with kids and other park users. The problem is that harmony is hard to find right now.
The Stephens Park problem isn’t with dogs, but with humans — specifically, humans who don’t properly look after their dogs. Waste is piling up, and there have been reports of ball-playing kids being chased by dogs.
In response, town officials are looking at measures that might include reinstating the town’s leash laws at the park.
That won’t be a first step, but Vail Town Council members recently said it’s time for action, and action is coming quickly.
We can all work together
“Kids are being told they’re not welcome — on grass,” council member Jenn Bruno said at the council’s June 6 meeting. “You’d like to think that dogs and kids can all work together.”
How to get a bit of togetherness could be tricky. The town contracts with Eagle County for animal control services, and those officers only work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. A bigger presence will require spending more money on enforcement.
Cameras are a possibility, but it will be hard to put enough cameras out, even at the relatively small park, to adequately spot dogs and humans who aren’t complying with the park rules.
Council members also talked about the prospect of putting out more waste collection bags, and, perhaps, pooper scoopers for park users to share.
But there’s a lot of poop already in the park.
Council member Kim Langmaid lives near Stephens Park. She said she won’t go there any more.
“It’s unpleasant, and unsafe in places,” Langmaid said.
Town landscape architect Gregg Barrie oversees trails and parks. At the June 6 meeting, Barrie told council members that he’d asked a town crew to flag every pile of dog waste they found before mowing. On June 6, there were 25 flags across the park.
“People need to know that (waste) doesn’t just disappear with the snow,” Barrie said.
Besides the general “ick” factor, Barrie said the dog waste is a health issue, for both humans and for water quality in nearby Gore Creek.
Barrie suggested a meeting at the park with neighbors to talk about the issue.
But Mayor Dave Chapin said he suspects neighbors aren’t the main problem.
“It’s a transient dog park,” Chapin said. “It’s easy to stop on the way to work and let the dog run around.” Chapin added that he’s seen people come to the park, open their car doors, and just let their dogs run free for a while before whistling the animals back to the vehicle.
Leash laws reinstated?
While there’s serious talk about reinstating the town’s leash laws at the park, East Vail resident Bill Suarez urged the council to try to find different solutions.
Suarez said Bighorn Park in East Vail — a bigger park with far fewer reported problems with waste and dog-human conflicts — is already starting to see more use, presumably from people who don’t want to use Stephens Park any more.
“We have too many residents and too little space,” Suarez told the council, adding that he’d like to see more waste-collection bags around town, even in places where dogs aren’t allowed.
Suarez said he believes people will respond if they understand what’s at stake.
Whatever the solution, action is coming.
Barrie said there should be some sort of meeting — and some sort of action — within the next 10 days.
“We need to put the threat (of reinstating leash laws) out there a little bit,” Barrie said.
Council member Greg Moffet said he’s willing to help.
“I’d be happy to give (Barrie) a stick if the carrot doesn’t work,” Moffet said. “It’s disgusting, it’s unacceptable.”
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.