By MARIANNE BREVARD
It's a matter of safety: The Waterfront Park's swim beach has gone to the dogs.
At (the March 14) city council meeting an important issue was discussed concerning rules at our city parks. A new procedure for amending park rules to provide for more flexibility was adopted.
In particular, it was decided that off-leash dogs would now be allowed on the Waterfront Park beach during the "off-season," Sept. 15 to May 15. Council members Brian McNamara, Jeff Nicol, Carrie Nelson and Mayor Arthur Babitz all voted in favor of amending the current policy. (Ann Frodel and Laurent Picard, who were not in favor of this policy, were absent.) Dawna Armstrong voted against the policy change.
The previous city ordinance required all dogs in city parks to be on a leash, and had a "No Dogs on the Beach" policy for the Waterfront Park beach.
It is a common policy for most cities to separate family swim beaches from dog areas for safety and sanitary reasons. The rule to keep dogs off the beach was implemented last year by City Manager Bob Francis, upon the recommendation of the Parents Playground Committee. After fielding many complaints from park users that dogs were disruptive to picnic goers, small children and families enjoying the beach, the Parents Playground Committee supported this policy. The state also has a similar policy.
Another concern parents have frequently voiced is dog feces on the beach and in the landscaping plots. The city provides free dog disposal poop bags and has posted signs stating owners must clean up after their pets, but this has been difficult to enforce and has been a huge problem at the Waterfront Park.
There is also concern that dogs off-leash will trample the native plants many of us are nurturing through the volunteer Adopt A Plot program.
While I am a dog owner and love my yellow lab, Bay, I am discouraged by the city council's decision as it changes the original vision for the Waterfront Park as a community gathering place.
When envisioning the park, the public continually asked for a safe family swim beach. Right now the Waterfront Park beach is the only safe, roped children's beach along the Columbia River.
And, here in Hood River there is no "off-season." The park is used year-round by all members of this community and we should be able to continue to enjoy it safely for more than just four months of the year. I urge the city council to find a better solution to these conflicting uses.
One solution would be to create a designated dog park in Hood River. There is a huge need for our four-legged friends to have their own safe area to play. A grassroots movement to develop a dog park would take off, just like the Waterfront Park did.
Education to better inform and create responsible dog owners is good but it does not separate the uses at our family beach. I think this topic deserves more time for discussion and public comment.
The decision can be revisited by city council so it is important to give comments and report any dog/people conflicts to the city manager. I also encourage you to talk to the city council members, Mayor Babitz and City Manager Francis about allowing dogs off leash eight months of the year at our only city beach.
Marianne Brevard lives in Hood River.