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Commission ponders pros, cons of proposed dog park locations

December 9, 2004 Eden Prairie Sun Current

Commission ponders pros, cons of proposed dog park locations
By Lyn Jerde, Eden Prairie Sun Current

Eden Prairie’s canine citizens may not vote or pay taxes, but their voices – or at least those of their human companions – dominated the agenda at Monday’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission meeting.

Parks and Recreation Director Bob Lambert vowed that city officials would find places in Eden Prairie for dogs to romp without a leash. But those off-leash venues won’t be located in any designated conservation areas, Lambert said. And, they probably won’t be the 20-acre sites that dog park proponents had envisioned; instead, they’re more likely to encompass about four or five acres.

“We might have to back off from what we might like,” Lambert said, “and concentrate on what is feasible.”

The commission Monday directed city staff to explore alternatives for off-leash dog parks. Members of a disbanded committee – appointed in 2002 to explore alternatives for Eden Prairie off-leash dog areas – reunited at the meeting to reiterate their belief that Eden Prairie needs such amenities.

At least one member restated the committee’s previous recommendation – that the best available site is in the Cedar Hills area, west of Grace Church.

Dana Brewer said the main problem with the Cedar Hills site was that it was adjacent to homes. That issue, she said, could be alleviated if the off-leash area were located in a part of the Cedar Hills property that doesn’t abut houses.

Wherever a dog park is located, Brewer said, it should include: • at least five acres of “useable” space; • on-site water bodies that are uncontaminated by fertilizer runoff or other pollutants; • fencing, probably no more than four feet high; • accessibility to parking; • adequate distance from residential areas; • shade trees; and • amenities such as running water, restrooms and trash receptacles.

Brewer said she and other dog lovers are grateful that the city has designated four outdoor hockey rinks in city parks as off-leash sites outside of the ice hockey season, plus a tract on Flying Cloud Drive (near the former Best Buy headquarters), which has about one acre fenced in for year-round off-leash access. But none of these sites, she said, provide adequate exercise space for larger dogs.

Nobody spoke in favor of a proposal Lambert made at the November commission meeting – to designate portions of conservation areas, including Birch Island Woods, as legal off-leash venues. Lambert had said that many dog owners already exercise their unleashed dogs in these areas, which are not located near homes.

Jeff Strate, of Friends of Birch Island Woods, said he asked the manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington whether off-leash dog use would be consistent with the purpose of a conservation area such as the refuge. In a Nov. 30 letter, Refuge Manager Rick Schultz said unleashed dogs could harass wildlife, and pose a hazard to humans visiting the refuge. Strate said dogs allowed to run loose in conservation areas would likely exercise their hunting instincts and chase protected wildlife, as well as harm plant species with their wastes.

Eden Prairie resident Geri Napuck told the commission the city might violate state law if it allows dogs to run free on land that it designates as a conservation area – and dogs’ owners could be charged with a petty misdemeanor if their animal “hunts” a protected species in such an area.

Lambert backed away from his earlier suggestion to consider off-leash use in conservation areas. However, he left open the possibility of creating an off-leash site along the cross-country skiing trails at Staring Lake Park, for the nine months of the year when they’re not used for skiing. Lambert added that there might soon be a new 10-acre off-leash park at Bryant Lake Park in Eden Prairie, which is part of the Three Rivers Park District.

The Three Rivers Park District board, he said, will soon consider a recommendation for the proposed off-leash park, with two stipulations – that the cost of fencing be explored, and that a study be conducted to assess the environmental impact that dog waste products might have on the lake. If all goes well, a Bryant Lake dog park could be open by late summer 2005, Lambert said.

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