• Group,Of,Dogs,Playing,In,The,Park

On the fifth anniversary of the Evergreen off-leash dog park closing, a group of residents asked the Jefferson County commissioners to fast-track finding a new location, saying they believe the county has been dragging its feet.

Four members of Friends of Evergreen Dog Park plus another resident discussed Jeffco Open Space closing the 107-acre park on Stagecoach Boulevard in April 2017, how they operated in good faith to find a new location in the last five years, and every idea was shot down for one reason or another. They said other communities in the nation successfully operate dog parks and asked why that couldn’t happen again in Evergreen.

County Manager Don Davis said the county commissioners would get an update on the Evergreen dog park during their study session on May 10.

Matt Robbins, spokesman for Jeffco Open Space, said in an interview that Open Space officials want to meet with representatives of Friends of Evergreen Dog Park and Evergreen Park & Recreation District before the May 10 meeting. Jeffco asked EPRD in August to determine whether it would consider operating a dog park, but discussion slowed after Executive Director Ellen O’Connor resigned in November. EPRD hired its new director on April 6.

Jeffco Open Space closed the dog park on April 4, 2017, over health and safety issues, citing dog waste, overcrowding, illegal parking along the road outside the park, vegetation loss and contaminated water in a stream that runs through the property. The closure caused an uproar in Evergreen. Friends of Evergreen Dog Park said it cleaned up the dog waste, the water wasn’t contaminated, and it was ready to operate the park.

Since then, FEDP and Jeffco Open Space looked at other locations, but FEDP said Jeffco Open Space put up roadblocks. Jeffco Open Space has said there were other barriers to finding a dog-park location.

In January, an Evergreen resident suggested that an off-leash dog park could be located in Elk Meadow.

Robbins said Jeffco Open Space was constantly trying to find a location for an off-leash dog park in Evergreen, noting, “We always have an ear to the ground looking for an opportunity.”

FEDP members didn’t mince words as they told the county commissioners to live up to promises county officials made to provide Evergreen with an off-leash dog park.

“The real problem at the former park was the overwhelming public demand for an off-leash hiking area,” FEDP president Dale Glover said. “It seems ironic that we chose to meet overwhelming public demand with closure versus solutions, particularly when the public was already stepping up to address the concerns raised. Other communities have found solutions to the issues we faced, and we can as well.”

Options are available, he said, including reopening the former park with modifications, and leveraging FEDP and community involvement to assure proper park management and maintenance. Another possibility would be designating specific parks and trails for off-leash dogs on certain days and times.

“Or we could acquire new land for a dedicated park, but this option is slipping away as development of the Evergreen area is rapidly reducing available parcels, and land cost is escalating,” Glover said.

FEDP member Jody Kirkpatrick added: “New residents regularly ask why our community doesn’t have an off-leash dog park. … What they hear on social media is that dog owners were irresponsible and didn’t take care of their park. That’s just not true. Hundreds of us participated in monthly cleanups and educational programs that worked. But Open Space … created a false narrative and a public-health scare to justify their desire to close the dog park.”

Her plea to the commissioners was echoed by the other speakers: “We need you to help us. We need you to make this right. We need you to keep your promise to the people of Evergreen.”

In the meantime, Robbins said Jeffco Open Space has made great headway with rehabbing the former dog park, which will be reopened as an extension of Elk Meadow Open Space Park on the north side of Stagecoach Boulevard, not as an off-leash dog park.

“It’s been a really good effort in that area, so we’re excited about the progress,” Robbins said. “We hope folks will enjoy the landscape and the revitalization. We continue to try to do the right thing.”