COLUMBIA — City officials are working to make Twin Lakes Recreation Area safer for dogs and their owners. The off-leash dog park, which is bordered by a lake, has signs warning owners to keep their dogs from going onto the lake when it is covered with ice. In spite of the warnings, breaking through the ice has been far too common an occurrence.
“If a dog goes through the ice, pretty soon a person goes out to help," said Battalion Chief Steven Sapp, Fire Marshall for the Columbia Fire Department. "It’s human nature.”
No one was injured this past winter, but Sapp and other city officials worry that they might not be so lucky in the future.
Sapp and the Fire Department have been pushing for the park services to do more to educate the public about the danger thin
Mike Griggs, manager of the city’s park services division, said that for three years, the city has tried to get the word out. Signs have been posted signs at either end of the park warning of the danger.
Because those steps haven’t been effective in preventing incidents, the city is now weighing several alternatives. These include using a drained-lake area adjacent to the off-leash area during the winter and shrinking the size of the current area with a temporary fence.
Griggs said the parks service is not considering closing the park, except for days when the lake was covered with ice and not considered safe. He said that safety for everyone, dogs and people alike, is one of his main concerns.
"One of these days, someone's gonna drown. I'll never sleep at night if that happens," he said.
The park services division will convene its staff in the next few weeks to discuss the issue and to come up with long-term and short-term options. Then, after posting notices at the off-leash park, Griggs will hold two open meetings at the Twin Lakes shelter, where he will present the city's options and get feedback from the park’s patrons. He said that he is looking for options that everyone can be happy with.
Griggs added that part of the challenge has been cutbacks in the park services' budget.
"We do have some money for short-term solutions, but longer-term would need funding," he said. "We just want to make the park safer for dogs."