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Dog-park fans still mad over partial closure

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Most of park scheduled to close April 4

By Joe Moylan

Last week, several Evergreen residents — including members of a recently established local nonprofit — hammered members of Jeffco Open Space about its decision to close most of the Elk Meadow dog park despite a deal to maintain about 6 acres for off-leash use.

“I want to go on the record that I am not happy about any of this, and I don’t want the public to think we are rolling over,” Betsy Rich, a member of Friends of Evergreen Dog Park, said during a community meeting last Thursday. “I am going to be over there working and volunteering, but I am not taking my dogs to a 5-acre playground.”

Prior to last Thursday’s meeting, which was Open Space’s third and final community gathering at Buchanan Rec Center in Evergreen about the fate of Elk Meadow, representatives from Friends of Evergreen Dog Park met with Open Space Executive Director Tom Hoby to discuss saving the popular dog park from a full-blown closure. The agency agreed to allow the nonprofit to take over management duties of Elk Meadow’s two fenced areas, including the original bark park, which Evergreen resident Judi Quackenboss opened in 2001 in conjunction with Open Space in honor of her son, John Michael, who died in a plane crash the year before.

Last Thursday, Hoby outlined parameters Friends of Evergreen Dog Park must follow to ensure that portion of the park remains open to the public. Those thresholds include keeping dog waste in check so stream water quality isn’t adversely affected; ensuring patrons comply with posted park regulations and safety laws; making sure people do not violate the Jeffco natural resources closure of Elk Meadow; and ensuring those using the two fenced areas are not further degrading that site.

If any of those thresholds are not met, Open Space will close the entire park, Hoby said. In addition, it plans to strictly enforce the closure of Elk Meadow with $100 tickets for anyone caught inside the restoration zone. No warnings will be given, Hoby said.

In addition, Hoby talked about plans to change the shoulder along Stagecoach Boulevard to a tow-away zone from a no-parking zone. That change, which was greeted with widespread applause, would force violators to pay private impound fees rather than a $25 parking ticket.

“We all have an idea of the hassle of having a car towed,” Hoby said. “And we have a third-party company in mind that is really motivated to tow cars parked illegally on Stagecoach Boulevard.”

Although saving the bark park portion of Elk Meadow from closure was touted as a victory on the Friends of Evergreen Dog Park’s Facebook page, not everyone was happy about the new partnership with Open Space.

Bert Rankin, a member of Friends of Evergreen Dog Park, cited testing done in January by the Evergreen Metro District that showed water flowing in Bergen Creek a half-mile below Elk Meadow contained no E. coli. Rankin touted local volunteer efforts, which have resulted in the removal of close to 1,000 pounds of dog waste since September, for bringing those E. coli levels to zero from summertime levels that were more than 20 times the EPA standard.

But Dave Lighthart, EMD general manager, said Tuesday that he wasn’t expecting to find much, if any E. coli in Bergen Creek in January, considering the testing was not conducted during Elk Meadow’s peak visitation season and in light of Open Space data that show E. coli levels well below EPA standards during the spring and fall of 2016. Lighthart further explained it is his agency’s duty to perform testing of the creek because it flows into Upper Bear Creek, which in turn flows into Evergreen’s drinking water supply at Evergreen Lake.

“We are obligated to investigate, and now that we know about it (E. coli in Bergen Creek), we’re keeping a close eye on it,” Lighthart said, adding that quarterly testing of Evergreen Lake began in 2016 . “So far, it appears there are no impacts at the lake.”

Although Evergreen proper’s drinking water is safe, that’s not the case for several residents neighboring Elk Meadow who said their wells are contaminated by E. coli from Bergen Creek.

“You’re concerned about where to run your dogs?” Susan Glass said in response to several dog owners who continued to complain last Thursday about the closure. “We have children. We have grandchildren. We have animals too, and now we’re living in a contaminated zone.”

More than 100 of Elk Meadow’s 107 acres will close April 4 for restoration. Open Space estimates it will take at least three years and more than $400,000 to repair the damage done at Elk Meadow, a price tag that rivals what Jeffco Open Space paid for that land in the first place, Hoby said.