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Basalt council designates off-leash dog areas
Decision could lead to stepped-up enforcement of leash law elsewhere
Mario Gutierrez plays with Aldo, an 8-month-old beagle, at Arbaney Park, one of four recently designated off-leash dog areas in Basalt. - photo by Todd Hartley

The Basalt Town Council passed an ordinance at Tuesday night’s council meeting designating four areas of town as specific off-leash areas for dogs, but whether that equates to more freedom or less for the town’s four-legged friends remains to be seen.

As it is worded, the ordinance calls for Southside Park, in Basalt’s Southside neighborhood; Confluence Park, at the confluence of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers; the western end of Linear Park, in Willits; and the western side of Arbaney Park, near the Elk Run neighborhood; to be designated off-leash locations.

To the casual observer, such an effort might seem redundant, as all four parks have been popular off-leash dog areas for years, but the truth of the matter is that prior to Tuesday night’s decision Basalt has always had a law on the books requiring “any owner or keeper of a dog to keep such dog under control,” in effect mandating leashes for dogs in all parts of the town. 

It’s a law that has rarely been enforced up to now, and some Basaltines have expressed concerns that the new off-leash ordinance will equate to stepped-up enforcement of the leash law in other places. It was a common theme among the handful of citizens who spoke last month when the ordinance first came up for discussion, although no members of the public commented on the matter this week.

Another concern citizens had was that the four designated locations aren’t enough for the Mid-Valley’s numerous dog owners, but Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney noted the town’s idea is to start with four and see if changes need to be made down the road.

“We’re hesitating on opening the floodgates with too many locations now because we feel like once you do that it’s really hard to reel those back in,” he said.

Some additional locations that have been mentioned in the past include the rugby field along Valley Road near the Willits neighborhood, the River Park in downtown Basalt and Ponderosa Park south of the Roaring Fork River, just east of downtown. All three locations, however, have issues that make them less than ideal as off-leash areas.

“The River Park is going to be a developing area” between the town adding infrastructure and private residences being built, “and as it builds up, taking that liberty away would be problematic,” said Mahoney. “Ponderosa Park is densely wooded, so it would be pretty easy to lose sight of the dog or have it not be within earshot, and the rugby field gets used pretty regularly by teams, so it has always been off limits to dogs.”

While he agreed with limiting the current off-leash areas to four, council member Gary Tennenbaum quibbled with Mahoney’s take on the River Park, which already sees plenty of off-leash dog use. 

“Are we really going to start to enforce the River Park?” Tennenbaum asked. “The laissez-faire approach seems to be ending, which I’m totally in agreement with … but I think as this gets out and people start hearing about it, they’ll be calling you about it. I’d just like to know what the enforcement strategy is going to be.”

“The enforcement strategy is going to be a period of at least two months, maybe three months, of just education, warnings and getting signs posted marking these areas,” said Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott. “We’ll go through a lengthy education period where we’re having these conversations, explaining the why and what the goal is and, moving forward, after we stop with the warnings and start enforcement, what that enforcement will look like.”

Tennenbaum also had issues with Arbaney Park, which he sees as a problem waiting to happen due to the difficulty of keeping dogs to one end of the field.

“Arbaney is going to be a disaster to try to enforce that,” said Tennenbaum. “To put a line in the middle of the field is just asking for disaster because people are still going to use the whole field.”

That comment sparked a discussion among the other council members about how the off-leash part of Arbaney Park could best be delineated. In the end, though no official solution was put on the table, the council decided that the concerns over the park were not reason enough to delay the ordinance, and after council member Ryan Slack moved that the ordinance be adopted, it passed unanimously. 

The ordinance will now move on to a second reading at the council’s meeting on Sept. 24. If it passes again, the new rules could go into effect as soon as two weeks later.