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Efforts to Create an Off-Leash Dog Park in Cottonwood Heights

Apr 07, 2016 11:07AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Cassandra Goff | cassie@mycityjournals.com

Cottonwood - Holladay - Concerned resident of Cottonwood Heights Stephanie Gelman recently mentioned to the Cottonwood Heights City Council that she would like to see an off-leash dog park within the city. Her comment began an extensive working effort into identifying a suitable area for an off-leash dog park. Working collaboratively, the city council and Gelman have identified potential spaces within the city. 

The Cottonwood Heights City Council previously considered implementing such an area. In 2005, a pilot program was designed for Bywater Park, located at 3149 East Banbury Road, where the city intended to block off an area of the park, designated for off-leash usage, during a few hours each day. After one year of this pilot program, they would reevaluate and consider implementation of a permanent area for an off-leash dog park. 

The pilot program had strict rules, including “leaving dogs unattended is prohibited, no more than two dogs per responsible adult allowed per visit, owners must carry a six-foot leash at all times, dogs identified with a known history of dangerous behavior are prohibited from the park, dog owners assume all risk related to park use, puppies less than four months must be on leash, each dog must wear a collar with valid license attached at all times while in off leash area.”  

The pilot program said the following: “Use rules and regulations will be posted in conspicuous places at Bywater Park. This and other documents detailing off-leash use and regulations will be available for distribution to park users. Dog cleanup dispensers and trashcans will be available throughout the park to assist pet owners with cleaning up after their dogs. Service Area Administration will report monthly to the Service Area Board of Trustees on the status of the pilot program and inform the Trustees of any site adjustments, use issues, complaints, etc. Within 60 days after the one year anniversary date of the pilot program, the service area administration will formally report the results of the pilot program at its discretion if it deems it in the best interest of the community,” and appropriate public notice would be made.

The pilot program was intended to last one year. However, it died shortly after its first month, because many of the neighbors had complaints. The city, with legal opinion to avoid liability, dissolved the pilot program.

From this action in 2005, Gelman and city council knew Bywater Park would not be a suitable option for an off-leash dog park. They examined Mill Hollow Park, located at 2850 Hollow Mill Drive, finding county ownership as well as a “passive park” label. Old Mill Park, located around 6748 South Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, has private ownership. Other locations previously considered resulted in similar complications, including resident complaints, liability and property ownership.

Eventually, Gelman and the council found two areas within the city with potential for an off-leash dog area. The first option is the back lot of the Mountain View Memorial Mortuary and Cemetery located at 3115 East and 7800 South. Dog owners within the city began to use the back lot as an off-leash dog park after the pilot program at Bywater failed in 2005. The owners of the cemetery allowed their back lot to be used as a hiking, biking and off-leash dog area until late 2014, when a “No Trespassing” sign was installed and the back entrances were closed without notice. 

The other area for consideration is a small park off of Wasatch Boulevard called Lab Alive. This area was referenced to under many names, including Lab Alive and the swamp lot. This area has minor issues concerning parking and limited green space. However, the major issue with this specific lot is Salt Lake County ownership. Cottonwood Heights had previously expressed interest in buying this area from the county. The county agreed on selling, with one condition: it could not be made into a dog park. 

On Feb. 26, Stephanie Gelman invited Councilmember Mike Peterson and a number of concerned Cottonwood Heights residents to meet with Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Department Director Martin Jensen and Associate Division Director Christina Oliver. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss turning the Lab Alive/swamp lot area into an off-leash dog park and allowing Cottonwood Heights City to gain ownership. 

“The city can get things done quicker than the county can,” Gelman said.  

Jensen and Oliver were supportive of the group’s effort, admitting that the county does not have enough dog parks. However, the Lab Alive/swamp lot area has a water basin, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not allow a dog area to exist while the water resides. The area may also have issues with ski resort contracts. The general conclusion from Jensen and Oliver was that making this area suitable for EPA approval would be too expensive. 

“So this is not impossible with an unlimited budget?” Gelman asked. “With an unlimited budget, it is possible for this area to be a dog park,” Oliver said. 

Jensen, Oliver, Peterson and Gelman discussed the similarities between the county’s and city’s attempts for dog park implementation. The Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation department attempted to identify potential off-leash dog areas throughout the county last year. They investigated areas the public did not utilize often so an off-leash option should have been available, at least for certain hours during the day. Out of 12 potential areas, only one ended up being suitable for an off-leash dog park. Others were dismissed on complications much like Cottonwood Heights faced, such as EPA limitations, resident complaints concerning smell, litter and noise pollution, ownership and liability issues. 

However, the county has seen an increase of complaints concerning the lack of dog parks. Now, their main concern with opening one or two off-leash dog parks is drawing a big crowd from around the entire county. Within the second or third quarter of this year, Salt Lake County will be looking into hiring a third-party to identify locations for off-leash dog parks. 

Jensen and Oliver advised Gelman and the concerned resident group to contact Salt Lake County Councilmember Scott Berrett for more information on this issue. They also intend to reach out to the cemetery owners to inquire if they would be willing to work with Cottonwood Heights City to implement an off-leash dog area in their back lot. 

Cottonwood Heights dog owners interested in getting involved can email Stephanie Gelman at s_gelman@yahoo.com.  

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