Free To Roam

A new pilot program in seven Boise, Idaho, parks gives dogs room to roam off-leash during designated morning and evening hours.

A dog and its human enjoy a walk in the park.

The one-year pilot project was launched in April 2011 after an extensive public-awareness campaign that included direct-mail postcards sent to 12,749 neighbors of eight park sites, eight public meetings, and an online survey. Comments also were submitted via phone and e-mail. An astonishing 3,400 people responded to the online survey.

The campaign generated interest from print and broadcast media, as well as from blogs and letters to the editor.

In a February 15, 2011, editorial, the Idaho Statesman praised the public process used to identify the park sites and solicit public opinion. “This is no easy job of consensus-building. The divisions that are the stuff of a lofty political-science thesis–conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat–have nothing on the fault line between dog people and non-dog people. Passion fuels the tensions.”

Public Response

While there have been strong opinions on both sides of the issue, data gathered in a citywide survey showed that citizens were keenly interested in seeing more recreational opportunities for dogs. A household survey conducted in 2009 for an update of the department’s five-year comprehensive plan showed that 60 percent of respondents owned dogs. When asked, “Should dogs be allowed in parks off-leash?” only 28 percent of respondents answered “yes.” However, 67 percent supported designated dog on-leash and dog off-leash times.

Identifying appropriate sites was no small feat. Boiseans love their parks–in a recent survey 77 percent of local residents visited a city park at least once a month.

The survey data helped fuel a decision by the nine-member Boise Parks & Recreation Commission to develop a process for creating off-leash hours, says President Cissy Madigan. Thanks to a postcard mailing and neighborhood meetings, the commission received a flood of comments–positive and negative.

Selecting Locations

Although the commission originally considered eight parks, only seven were approved for the project. “We excluded one site because public support wasn’t as solid,” says Madigan.

A list of criteria was used to help identify possible parks:

• Existing activities

• Drop-in use patterns

• Parking and pathways

• Natural barriers, such as berms and trees

• Maintenance concerns

• Financial implications

• Wildlife concerns

• Restrooms

• Geographic diversity.

Additional consideration was given to consistency of off-leash hourly or seasonal use throughout the park system. The department’s goal was to make the plan as consistent as possible in order to clearly communicate the rules, hours, and locations to park users, staff, and enforcement officers.

“Our goal is to be good stewards of the land and respectful of neighbors and park users, while providing more opportunities for dog owners who have been anxious to find accessible places to exercise their pets,” says Mollie Holt, superintendent of administration at Boise Parks & Recreation.

Dogs enjoy walking the trails.

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  4. A Wearing Problem
  5. Designing Dog Parks
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