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In split vote, city council approves seasonal canine beach access

March 16, 2011

Paws and footprints in the sand will be allowed to mix, at least for the next six weeks, under a resolution passed Monday by Hood River City Council.

In a 4-1 vote, the council adopted new rules governing use of city parks, which dealt in part with the contentious issue of dogs running on the Hood River Waterfront Park beach.

Council Member Dawna Armstrong voted against the rule change, while councilors Jeff Nicol, Carrie Nelson and Brian McNamara, along with Mayor Arthur Babitz, voted for it.

The rules allow dogs - on leashes - to be on the park beach from Sept. 15 to May 15. For the remaining four months, dogs are not allowed on the beach.

The council's park rules action moves the basis of the rules, which also govern human behavior, out of city ordinances and into a form that will be more flexible as well as allowing improved enforcement, according to Babitz.

The seasonal plan drew criticism from three citizens, including Susan Froehlich, who told council that allowing dogs to run on the beaches is a health and safety concern.

"Mixed uses are a huge potential for accidents," she said. "Take some time to think this (rule) over and put some energy into putting together a dog park."

"In my opinion, there is no off-season at the park," said Marianne Brevard, a county resident and frequent park user with her daughter, Thea, 6. Brevard said the presence of dog feces poses a bacteria and pollution threat and said "dog owners have proven themselves to be irresponsible" about picking up after their pets.

Julie Gilbert of Hood River said people already ignore the "no dogs" sign, and cited one "pretty ugly" incident she saw last summer when a dog owner was asked to keep a dog off the sands and reacted angrily.

"This subject needs more time," she said. "I am surprised more people aren't aware of this proposal."

Babitz said the council has spent sufficient time on the subject, which was discussed in the Jan. 24 meeting. Council asked City Manager Bob Francis to revise the proposal he put forth in January, which prohibited dogs "on any city park beach or swim areas used by humans."

The idea of creating a dog park came up as part of the council's lengthy discussion, though Babitz said the idea has arisen in the past and he does not believe it merits the use of staff time to work on what would be a long and complicated process, when other park-related issues, including funding and maintenance.

Signs at the park already tell people not to run their dogs on the beach, but this is frequently ignored, according to council members as well as citizens who spoke Monday.

Dog owner Barb Ayers said she supports looking into formation of a dog park, something she helped do in another community, but said she and others have looked into potential sites and none appear to be an easy solution.

Ayers said a better idea is dog-owner-to-owner education and communication, which she said she would be willing to head up.

Babitz said the best enforcement is self-enforcement, and said that as a dog owner he always has clean bags on hand, even reaching into his pocket during the meeting and producing one. He said he offers bags to people with dogs who need them, and sometimes cleans up after scofflaws' dogs, without saying anything.

"Fundamentally, rules don't equal compliance," said Babitz,.

Judy Nelson of Hood River said she routinely bags up dog feces at parks, and has worked with city public works staff on the problem. She said a common misperception is that it is visitors and not locals who let their dogs defecate on parks and school grounds without cleaning up the remains.

"It's us. It's us who are fouling our own nests," Nelson said.

"People want irresponsible people to become responsible,' Babitz said. "In most cases, there is not a lot we can do. People are going to do what they are going to do, and there is very little we can do to enforce it."

Babitz said the city can try the seasonal beach rules for dogs, and review and possibly change it later this spring.

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