Gone are the days of chasing joggers and begging for food from children at family reunions, at least for dogs at Twin Lakes Recreation Area.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department is taking steps to alleviate conflicts among users of the park by building fences to enclose a leash-free area for dogs, creating Columbia’s first dog park.
The City Council on Monday night unanimously approved funding for the $8,000 Twin Lakes fence project. The money will be used to build fences and gates to separate the leash-free area of the park from other recreational areas for a better understanding of where unleashed dogs are allowed to roam free.
The area to be fenced in, which will include six acres of grassland between the fishing lake and the swimming lake, is more than twice the size of the area that has been designated as leash-free since 1997.
“I think we’ll find that dog owners won’t see this as a restriction but as a benefit,” said Park Services manager Mike Griggs.
“If you look at communities across the country, open spaces are disappearing,” Griggs said. He said this is certainly true in a college town such as Columbia, with a high proportion of housing being apartments and duplexes. Because Columbia, like most cities, has a leash ordinance, many dog owners are at a loss for places to let their dogs run free.
Griggs said he thinks an enclosed dog park at Twin Lakes might be the initial step in a broader effort to establish dog parks around the city.
“This is something we, as a department, have wanted to do since 2002. We think Twin Lakes could be just the first. ... If it’s successful, we’ll look at some other areas,” Griggs said.
The department hopes the project will be done by Memorial Day.
As it is now, signs are posted designating which areas of the park are leash-free zones, but there are no physical demarcations on the property itself.
“This makes it hard for dog owners to know when they are within the boundaries of the leash-free area” and when they are in violation of the city leash ordinance, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said. “I think (the fences) will clearly define the area so it will be clear when they are in violation of the rules.”
Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of $25. It can also be a nuisance to fellow park users. Griggs said the department receives two to three complaints per week about dogs in the spring and summer and two to three complaints per month during the colder months when the park is used less.
“Dog owners are a close-knit group. They arrange play dates for their dogs,” Griggs said. “There are just a few people who think they can call their dogs back and then can’t.”
Serious conflicts have been minimal, said Griggs, but there have been instances of dogs snapping at children near the playground, bothering seniors along the MKT Trail, annoying fishermen along the edge of the lake and pestering parties cooking food at the shelters.
Griggs said there have been no similar conflicts reported at the four other leash-free areas in the city — Grindstone Nature Area, Bear Creek Nature Area, Hinkson Woods Natural History Area and the Garth Nature Area west of Garth Avenue — because they are not mixed recreational use areas like Twin Lakes.
Griggs said new fences will provide park rangers with more justification for writing citations, but he said he hopes they will create a “peer-pressure situation” among dog owners so that they will monitor themselves.