Off-leash Dog Parks mulled at Music Center

What does the future hold for dog lovers who love to let their ‘best friends’ run free?  There’s still a chance for to chime in – if you read this, and take action – right now …

Eileen Argentina, Services Manager for Portland Parks & Recreation, addresses attendees at the Southeast Portland Off-Leash Dog Park open house.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Since Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) began a pilot program in 1999 by setting up three fenced, off-leash dog areas, this feature has expanded, and now Portland has 32 off-leash areas.

“Five of these sites are fenced, all-day areas,” PP&R’s Services Manager Eileen Argentina told us, before an “Off-leash Open House” began at Southeast Portland’s Community Music Center. “The remaining areas are unfenced,” she added, “with seasonal hours, depending on site restoration and adjacent uses.

“Tonight, we’re having a talk with users of off-leash areas in our parks,” Argentina said. “We want to renew the discussion started about ten years ago, about how we manage the system that we have. And, potentially, we may start an Advisory Group.”

In addition to sharing information about how the off-leash system is working, Argentina said she hoped to get feedback about citizen’s priorities. “There may be some changes – we’re not talking about any substantial changes – but, how we can make best use of our resources. This means setting priorities with our maintenance dollars; how can we work together to decide to leverage volunteer resources, and perhaps do some fundraising to support off-leash areas.”

Ali Ryan, PP&R Program Specialist in charge of the Off-Leash Area (OLA) program, said that walk-through site assessments of the 32 off-leash areas had been completed by park staff and community members. The overview of the results included:

Positive attributes:

  • Off-leash areas are in good shape for the amount/level of use they get
  • Users appreciate the areas very much, and most report responsible use of OLAs
  • Many users indicated they’d like a way to get involved with volunteering/fundraising

Challenges and issues:

  • Ground conditions – Bare patches, turf health, drainage issues, irrigation challenges
  • Amenity requests – Users would like to see water, lighting, and trash cans added to sites
  • Conflicts with other uses – Dogs being off-leash outside OLAs is a problem, especially with adjacent uses like playgrounds/sports
  • Trash can location – Users want trash cans moved inside OLA boundaries
  • Environmental impacts – OLAs do have effects on environmental health, park ecologists noted – especially at Gabriel, Sellwood Riverfront, Willamette, and Mt. Tabor.

PP&R’s Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong gives a presentation outlining the history of off-leash dog areas in Portland.

Questions and answers
PP&R staff members answered dozens of questions at the open house, including:

Q: I’m interested in establishing an OLA in my neighborhood.

A: Portland Parks & Recreation is not currently considering adding or removing off-leash areas from the system.

Q: If my dog is attacked, or someone keeps showing up with an aggressive dog, what do I do?

A: For an emergency situation, call Multnomah County Animal Control directly at 503-988-PETS andtouch “1” for emergency. Aggressive animals may also be reported to Park Rangers at 503-823-1637.

Q: I’m new to off-leash areas, how I can learn about volunteer opportunities?

A: PP&R doesn’t currently have a dedicated volunteer group for off-leash areas, though certain off-leash areas do have “friends” groups. There is strong interest from both the community and PP&R in establishing some tools to assist people in forming volunteer groups, or holding work parties.

Advisory group members sought
To help guide the bureau’s regarding the off-leash program, Argentina said they hope to establish an off-leash advisory group. “This would be an ongoing group that would act as a sounding board for parks bureau.”

“Many meeting attendees did turn in advisory group interest forms after the meeting,” Ryan told us later. If you are interested, but missed the meeting, “interest forms” are available online at their website: CLICK HERE. Although it’s past their official deadline, they still want your input.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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