A proposal to ban dogs in the Ashland Ponds area got some pushback from seven neighbors who challenged the notion at the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Monday.
The ponds provide a short loop and level walk around some beautiful riparian areas with easy access from the adjacent neighborhood north of West Nevada Street. The beginning of the trail is punctuated with a dog waste bag station and garbage can, a tacit acknowledgment of the area as a dog friendly park.
Wayne Cameron lives near the entrance to the ponds trail and walks his dogs there twice daily. He said banning dogs would hurt a lot of neighbors and their pets.
“There’s a gentleman who lives in the area who is wheelchair bound,” Cameron said. “He walks his big, fluffy dog down there usually once a day I tell you if you ban dogs in that area, that would be a big detriment to his quality of life.”
It’s the secluded habitat and plethora of animal species in the 22-acre parcel that makes it a candidate as a wildlife refuge within city limits, a status currently only conferred on North Mountain Park. Such a move would exclude dogs.
That’s not to say that someone walking their pup is disturbing, but the scent of a dog may alarm animals to the threat of a potential predator, which in turn could keep them hidden. The argument was made that this isn’t fair to nature viewers or the animals.
In a staff report, Commissioner Rick Landt is attributed with stating that the ponds are visited frequently by wildlife such as river otters, hooded mergansers, red shouldered hawks, sharp shinned hawks and blue herons.
The seven dog walkers who showed up to argue their case made it clear to the commission they see it as a thin argument, especially because nobody showed to argue the nature-watching side. Multiple members of the public who spoke their piece mentioned the fact that they see many more dog walkers than nature viewers daily.
A few speakers noted that there’s not many dog-walking friendly sidewalks in the neighborhood, including Pamela Kuhn.
“We take our dog (to the pond) twice a day and he’s been hit by a car on Nevada Street so we don’t really want to be on the streets, there’s not a lot of sidewalks, I’m usually walking with my 6-year-old and (the pond) offers a nice respite that you don’t totally get at the dog park,” Kuhn said. “Our dog isn’t good at the dog park. Not to be crude, but he’s a ‘humper,’ so it’s not always a great experience at the dog park.”
Other neighbors also said they don’t find the dog park ideal for all dogs, and that many people enjoy the act of walking their pet, instead of standing aside while Fido romps with other canines. Also, there’s no direct path from the neighborhood to the dog park except for a crude user-made path beside the wastewater treatment plant.
A couple of people also noted that house cats wander into the park and kill more creatures than any dog on a leash could, and the cats can’t be excluded.
Cameron made the comment that humans are just as intrusive to the area as dogs. “If you’re going to exclude dogs, you might as well exclude people too,” he said.
Dogs, cats and people aren’t the only intrusions area wildlife has to cope with. A 24-inch outfall pipe from the wastewater treatment plant is scheduled for installation in the area, possibly sometime in 2020, according to Public Works Director Paula Brown. The timeline is subject to change and is dependent on the Department of Environmental Quality’s schedule.
Laurie True said expecting neighbors to put up with that kind of construction for years and not allowing them to walk their dogs in the area wasn’t fair.
“The pond will be drained to lay the pipe, there will be ditches dug, bulldozers and all wildlife will run towards the hills and be gone for I don’t know how long,” True said. “You want this wildlife refuge area and then you want to kick us out it doesn’t seem fair.”
There was general agreement between public speakers and the commission that this type of construction would cause far more commotion than a dog on the end of the leash.
Commissioner Joel Heller said it made no sense to him to decide on this now.
“The other thing that is striking to me is it does seem kind of disingenuous to be talking about this refuge at the time we’re about to start tearing up the land,” Heller said.
Eventually, wetland-like cooling ponds are planned for the southwestern side of the current Ashland Ponds property, potentially offering alternative walking paths. It was suggested that perhaps these ponds could serve as the future wildlife refuge or dog walking area.
Commissioner Landt said the public that showed up to argue against the dog ban made it clear that it’s not the best decision.
“I think there may be some compromises that can enhance the ability to support this area as a wildlife area and at the same time provide opportunities for dog walking ... and I’d like staff to pursue those,” Landt said.
It was determined that for now dogs can continue to visit the ponds area, with any ban unlikely until sometime after the outfall pipeline is installed.
If the ponds area is designated a wildlife refuge, staff would prioritize removal of invasive plant species such as the abundance of blackberry shrubs.