The Evergreen Dog Park is a 107-acre off-leash property owned and managed by Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS). Our group, Friends of Evergreen Dog Park (FEDP), was established earlier this year to work with JCOS to resolve some of the problems facing the park and to ensure its continued existence. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, JCOS decided to close our park in early April.
Our dog park is part of Elk Meadow Park, a sprawling 1,660-acre space that’s arguably one of the crown jewels of the JCOS system. The dog park includes wooded areas, meadows and an intermittent, low-flow stream that cuts through roughly half of the park. Although the dog park wasn’t officially established by the county until 2012, the area had been designated as an off-leash “training” area for dogs since the early 1990s. Here’s a quick timeline:
- In 2001, Evergreen resident Judi Quackenboss established a one-acre fenced “Bark Park” at the western end of the area in memory of her son, John, a dog lover who had been killed in a plane crash. In 2004, the Bark Park was expanded to include another six acres of fencing, adjacent to the original fenced area.
- In 2008, JCOS expanded the parking area for Elk Meadow Park and the dog park, adding a small lot on the south side of Stagecoach Blvd. to accommodate visitors to the dog off-leash area.
- In 2011 and 2012, the county cut roughly three miles of new, marked trails—portions of which were categorized as “handicapped accessible”—in the unfenced areas of the dog park. The new trail system included two sets of stairs and a series of culverts over the stream. The county publicized these improvements, and word quickly spread that what had once been a real pipe dream—acres and acres of pristine trails, legally open to off-leash dogs—was now a reality. Unfortunately, it was no longer a well-kept secret.
Almost overnight, the park began to see unprecedented numbers of visitors—an average of 4,000 a week, according to JCOS estimates—with predictable results: the ground was eroded as dogs (and humans) ventured off the marked trails, dog waste accumulated, and the stream began to show elevated levels of bacteria and other pathogens. In addition, the glut of visitors quickly overwhelmed the area’s parking capacity, in the two parking lots as well as the designated areas along both sides of the road. This led to a variety of traffic-related problems on Stagecoach Blvd., which is a two-lane county road with a posted 40-mph speed limit. At the same time, nearby property owners were having problems with trespassers (both human and canine) and expressing worry over the stream water leaving the park.
Early this year, JCOS announced it would be hosting a series of community meetings to address these problems. After the third meeting, which was held in March, the county announced that it would be closing all of the off-leash sections of the park indefinitely, leaving only the small fenced areas open. Shortly thereafter, JCOS revised its position and announced it would be fencing in an area on the eastern end of the park, roughly seven acres (and less than one mile of trail), leaving only that area open to visitors and closing the rest of the park. But less than a week after this announcement, JCOS again changed its story and declared its decision to close the park, in its entirety, on April 4.
FEDP is committed to working collaboratively with the county to resolve safety and environmental concerns and to implement solutions that meet the interests and needs of everyone. Today, we are asking JeffCo to reopen a portion of the park to meet the immediate demand for off-leash areas and to designate other off-leash areas and trails within the JCOS system, which currently manages 29 recreational-use parks and roughly 230 miles of trails—none of which is open to off-leash dogs.
We are asking that these areas be provided while a collaborative, permanent sustainable resolution is explored.
To this end, we are asking Jefferson County to designate some of its trails and spaces for off-leash dogs. We are conducting a petition right now—please sign our petition and join us in this effort.
Our long-term goal is to create a model park: one that provides the best possible off-leash environment while protecting (and even improving) the natural resources of that area. To this end, we are investigating the merits of a variety of management tools, many of which are being implemented at other dog parks and open spaces. These include:
- various membership/fee systems, such as an annual membership that provides special tags that must be displayed to gain access to the park
- novel methods of dog waste disposal, including composting and anaerobic digestion (AD), a process that uses “digesters” to break down feces into a biogas (mostly methane and carbon dioxide) that can be used as an onsite power source
- a DNA-based system that allows park management to identify feces left behind (and fine or otherwise penalize dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs)