Saanich boasts itself as a dog-friendly community with more than 150 parks where man’s four-legged friends can run off leash.
But talk about turning much of one park into an on leash-only has some dog owners up in arms.
“Dog walkers see themselves as the primary users of the park,” wrote Linda Shaw in a letter to the News, regarding plans for Cuthbert Holmes Park.
“Many have been walking their pets in the park for years and are frustrated at the possibility of being penalized despite years of good park citizenry.”
Saanich has been undertaking a lengthy management process for Cuthbert Holmes, a natural park, to look at how to maintain a healthy balance of nature and recreation.
As part of the process, there are plans to shut down “unauthorized trails” through the park to help the ecosystem flourish, said parks manager Rae Roer.
“We might systematically close off some of the unauthorized trails, combine that with restoration efforts, and then asking people to stay out of those areas,” Roer said.
“We’re proposing voluntary compliance that would include leashing your dog. And that would reduce conflict with wildlife, conflict with people, and conflict with dog owners, and it would preserve the natural side of the park.”
He added that no decisions have been finalized.
In response to the suggestion that Saanich might make the park on-leash, or only allow off leash in specific areas of the park near the Trans-Canada Highway, Shaw launched an online petition called “Keep Cuthbert Holmes dog friendly.” It currently has 226 signatures from equally incensed dog owners.
Shaw argues that leashing dogs would drive away local residents who use the park every day, and attract more transient people, who camp, damage the ecosystem and consume drugs.
“Dogs aren’t trashing (the park), it’s the people camping and leaving needles,” said Shaw, who has walked her dog at Cuthbert Holmes for 11 years.
Much of the 20-hectare park, located behind Tillicum Centre, just below the Trans-Canada Highway, is environmentally sensitive, according to a biology company contracted by the municipality to complete an environmental assessment.
“Whether it’s fisheries, or it could be protected bird species, old growth forests … there’s lots of important ecosystem values,” Roer said.
Like Saanich parks, Shaw said she and other dog walkers want to enjoy a balance between recreation and healthy ecology, but creating on-leash regulations wouldn’t solve the problems.
“We will do what is necessary to keep the park healthy, and keep our pets healthy and playing in there,” she said. “I’m so passionate about it, we walk in there so much. It’s a slice of paradise.”
Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, says his organization has been involved in the process, but won’t take sides on the issue of leashing dogs in the park.
“We recognize a significant number of users use it to take their dogs off leash,” Wickson said. “However, we’ve heard from a number of people who not going into the park because of dogs being off leash. In some cases, dogs off leash are affecting the environment in the park. People don’t have a clear understanding of how sensitive it is.”
The goal is to have the park review process complete by the end of the year.
To see the full long-term plans for Cuthbert Holmes Park, visit bit.ly/NcfHhr. See Shaw’s petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/cuthberthomes.
-With files from Edward Hill