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Loosen the leash?

Resident petitioning for specified off-leash hours for dogs at Mary S. Young State Park

A petition to allow for designated off-leash hours on the trails and river beach area of Mary S. Young Park in West Linn was met with skepticism during an Oct. 15 Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting, and the board ultimately voted 5-0 recommending the City Council deny the proposal.

The petition was started by resident Karen Sims-Bundy and gathered a total of 522 signatures. The proposal called for the hours of dawn to 9 a.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. to allow dogs off leash on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“We enjoy seeing our dogs explore the park trails while running along the paths and getting far more exercise than most of us could give them on a leash,” Sims-Bundy wrote in a petition letter to the West Linn Parks and Recreation department. “This allows ALL park users to choose a time, on leash or off leash, that is most comfortable for them.”

Sims-Bundy cited Central Park in New York City and Runyan Canyon Park in Los Angeles as two examples of parks that either have designated off-leash hours or simply don’t require leashes at all. In the petition, she also noted that “we agree to be responsible dog owners who will keep our dogs on leash if they are aggressive towards people or other dogs. We agree to keep our dogs within our sight at all times and under physical and/or verbal control.”

Mary S. Young is a state park leased and run by the City of West Linn. If the City were to pursue implementing Sims-Bundy’s proposal, it would require approval from the state’s Parks and Recreation Department as well. According to West Linn Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester, state rules currently do not allow for off-leash dogs in state controlled water or natural areas.

Currently, dogs are allowed to roam free in a designated off-leash area at the park, as well as a beach area along the Willamette River, but not on the trails.

“We agreed to manage the park and create any master plans to be consistent with Oregon Parks and Recreation policies,” Worcester said. “And this clearly would run way outside of that. ... Right now I think it would be too confusing to enforce just in general, and we’re also concerned about having the whole park being an off-leash area.

“There’s a reason natural areas, water streams and water resource areas are off limits (to dogs),” he added.

Beyond the concern for natural areas, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member Vicki Handy also cited safety issues.

“When my dog was alive, we loved to run off leash, but we were up on a 40-acre property ... never a public park,” Handy said. “My story in Mary S. Young is my son was attacked by an off-leash dog and I had to pick him up while the dog was biting me. I had to kick the dog and then the owner comes up and yells at me for kicking the dog.”

Sims-Bundy — who describes herself as “extremely passionate” about dogs — disagrees that off-leash hours would be a safety hazard.

“I’ve been going to the park for years and so many people have been (walking off leash),” Sims-Bundy said. “Easily the majority of users are those who have dogs, so we are really the majority and that’s why I got so much support for the petition. People love using this park and their dogs aren’t the ones who will go running after a jogger.”

Sims-Bundy decided to create the petition last spring, when she noticed that more and more residents were being fined for having their dogs off leash at the park.

“I was disturbed to see police officers fining people with dogs off leash when other things are going on that need much more monitoring,” she said.

Worcester, for his part, said the increase in fines was a direct response to complaints being lodged with the City.

“We were getting complaints of dogs jumping up on kids, dogs being everywhere (in the park), so we requested more stringent enforcement,” Worcester said.

In response to the fines, Sims-Bundy decided to post the petition at the park. She resolved that if she collected at least 50 signatures, she would pursue the issue with the City.

The petition received 100 signatures after two weeks and by July the total was up to 522, thus prompting Sims-Bundy to press on with the initiative. She presented the issue in front of both the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the City Council, while also starting a Facebook page, posting on Nextdoor.com and visiting neighborhood associations.

“I did make an effort to have this an open topic for all to see and discuss,” she said.

Board Chair Don Kingsborough abstained from the vote to recommend City Council turn down the petition request.

“The argument for (the proposal) was so ‘dogs could be dogs,’” board member Steve Millage said. “If it comes to that or people’s safety, or even fear for their safety, it’s a no-brainer to me.”

Worcester’s recommendation to the City Council was scheduled to be sent this week. To learn more about Sims-Bundy’s proposal, visit facebook.com/marysyoungparkoffleashdogs.