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Elk Meadow dog park set to close completely

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Friends of Evergreen Dog Park loses 8-acre parcel, plans protest for Saturday

By Joe Moylan

Jeffco Open Space announced Friday that it will close the Elk Meadow Dog Off-leash Area in Evergreen in its entirety on Tuesday, April 4.

The Elk Meadow dog park has multiple safety and environmental challenges that need to be addressed immediately, an Open Space news release stated. Earlier this month, Open Space evaluated keeping an eight-acre parcel open for park visitor enjoyment. It has become apparent that this would help address some concerns, but not all, the release stated.

In addition, this scenario was not embraced by many Elk Meadow stakeholders. After considering the facts, issues, perspectives and risks, Open Space decided to close all 107 acres of Elk Meadow for major restoration and to address safety concerns, the release stated.

The closure will be strictly enforced in accordance with Jeffco Open Space regulation C.5. Natural Resources Protection that carries a $100 fine for the first offense. To address public-safety concerns on Stagecoach Boulevard adjacent to Elk Meadow, Open Space is working with Jefferson County Transportation and Engineering to prohibit parking along the road, the Open Space release stated.

The announcement to close Elk Meadow completely comes two days after Doug Turner, vice-president and director of Friends of Evergreen Dog Park, penned a letter to Open Space and the Jeffco Board of County Commissioners demanding that management of the dog park be turned over to the local nonprofit and that all 107 acres remain open for public use.

“I am going to ask one last time that you let us, the people who are at the park every day, handle the situation that frankly you created,” Turner wrote. “We want the opportunity to show you how simple this really is and that you can rely on us so long as we have the ability to quickly adapt to the needs of the park and the neighbors.

“You are not giving us that opportunity. Instead, you are ignoring almost all the advice and setting this up to fail.”

The notion that Open Space was setting The Friends up to fail was a viewpoint widely shared by about 30 dog lovers who attended a community meeting on March 21 at Church of the Hills in Evergreen. Up until a week ago, it was the nonprofit’s board of directors’ understanding that they would be given the authority to enforce Open Space’s strict rules to keep their fenced, eight-acre sliver of Elk Meadow open until a new dog park site was located.

But Betsy Rich, president of the nonprofit, said last week that Open Space backed out of that agreement.

Tom Hoby, executive director of Open Space, has said numerous times since the last Elk Meadow community meeting earlier this month that his agency would close the entire dog park if any park user was caught outside of the fenced area, witnessed not picking up after their dog or if E. coli levels again spike in Bergen Creek. The Friends were being held to a strict one-strike-and-you’re-out standard.

“By implementing these rules and giving us no power to enforce them, all they’re doing is setting us up to fail so they can do what they’ve wanted to all along; close the park,” Rich said earlier this week.

Matt Robbins, community connections manager for Open Space, said Rich’s recollection of last week’s meeting was only partially accurate. Although there are numerous instances of Open Space partnering with local groups to help manage parks, there are no examples of volunteers being given enforcement authority over park rules.

In addition, Open Space told The Friends that any plans to turn over enforcement to the nonprofit would not only have to undergo a thorough vetting process but would also require the approval of Open Space, the Open Space Advisory Committee and the Jeffco Board of County Commissioners, Robbins said.

And even if The Friends successfully navigated that presumably lengthy process, Robbins wasn’t sure about which county agency would be tasked with giving members of the nonprofit their rule-enforcing authority. In other words, because the park would still be county property, Open Space officials had not yet determined if members of The Friends could undergo some type of training to be deputized as volunteer park rangers, junior Sheriff’s Office deputies or something else entirely.

Robbins added that Friday’s announcement to close all of the dog park had nothing to do with Open Space’s relationship with The Friends of Evergreen Dog Park, which had deteriorated about as quickly as it had been forged several weeks ago. Friday’s announcement also came as little surprise to members of the nonprofit.

“I’m not surprised because this was going to happen whether they did it on their own or used us as cover,” Rich said. “As soon as they took our management plan off the table and held us to a ‘one-strike-and-you’re-out’ standard — without any enforcement power — this was a forgone conclusion.

“It’s shocking because all of the problems at the park are problems that they could have prevented with basic management, but instead of giving the users an opportunity to fix their mistakes they’re just throwing up their hands and closing the park.”

Judi Quackenboss, who worked with Open Space in 2001 to open the original Bark Park in honor of her son, John Michael, who died in a plane crash the year before, said the local nonprofit isn’t giving up without a fight.

A “Bark Back” protest against Open Space’s decision is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at the RTD Bergen Park-n-Ride on the corner of Evergreen Parkway and County Road 65. The Friends plan to continue to fight Open Space and the county for the foreseeable future, but there are no plans yet to wage a legal battle.

“I don’t think we have to because we have the community behind us,” Quackenboss said. “No one we have spoken to wants this park to close; only a few neighbors do because Open Space has done a terrible thing by scaring them.

“There isn’t an E. coli problem; it’s under control. As Betsy has said, something stinks here, and it isn’t dog poop.”

The Friends are expecting up to 1,000 people to attend this weekend’s protest. After meeting at the Bergen Park-n-Ride, participants will walk to the Elk Meadow Dog Park and back.

Joe Moylan can be reached at jmoylan@evergreenco.com.