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Home / Articles / News / News Articles /  Dog Owners Refuse to Roll Over to Tanner Park Off-Leash Restrictions
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Dog Owners Refuse to Roll Over to Tanner Park Off-Leash Restrictions

The fight over Parley's Nature Park is only getting louder.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Photo by Erik Daenitz 
Posted // December 15,2010 -

When the Salt Lake Valley’s dog-owning community barks, politicians notice. The community’s most recent battle over new off-leash restrictions at Parley’s Historic Nature Park, also known as Tanner Park, is activating a grass-roots opposition movement that collected more than 2,100 members on Facebook. That’s nearly as many Facebook fans as the Utah Democratic Party has. Their organizational skills and adamancy is noted even by their opponents—as is their hunger for more off-leash parks, a zeal that may foretell future battles over Salt Lake County’s dwindling open space.

At the time of publication, the Salt Lake City Council had not yet voted on a final plan for Parley’s park(see the blog update for the results), which currently is almost entirely open to off-leash use across more than 60 acres (how much of the varied terrain is “usable” space depends on who you ask), but city council straw polls suggest some acres will be made off-limits to dogs. In the words of Utah Environmental Congress executive director Jake Schipaanboord, however, “they’re going to get quite a big area” for off-leash use.

Any cut in off-leash acreage—especially if it’s not replaced in another park—is unwelcome to many off-leash advocates. Indeed, far from wanting to compromise on restrictions, they’re pushing for expansions, setting the stage for similar battles in the future.

Polly Hart, the director of Millcreek FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Spaces), joined FIDOS in 2001, just after its inception. At the time, the U.S. Forest Service was considering requiring dog leashes in Millcreek Canyon, but was swayed by the dog lovers. As a result, off-leash dogs are allowed on canyon trails on odd-numbered days. “It is generally Forest Service policy throughout the nation to only allow dogs on leash,” Hart says, “but at [Salt Lake County’s] behest, they were allowing dogs off leash. Hart notes that as far back as 2001, “we had 2,000 people on our e-mail list.”

Once they won that battle, the group’s active membership receded, but the most active members didn’t stop lobbying. Around 2005, FIDOS pushed Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s administration to make legal the off-leash activities Hart says were already happening at Parley’s park. A two-year trial period ended in 2007, when the city council approved formal off-leash rules for Parley’s with the condition that the mayor’s office compose a formal long-term-maintenance plan. That plan was completed earlier this year by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, whose consultants proposed restricting off-leash use to two fenced areas and one trail, comprising 12 acres. The mayor’s priorities are protecting riparian habitat, improving water quality and preventing erosion—while leaving some space for off-leash use. The dog people exploded.

Dog trainer Roxanne Ball, of Sandy, is not a member of FIDOS but was involved in the opposition to the new restrictions. “It’s a tight community,” she says. “You can talk to them to say ‘in order to keep this park, this is what we need to do, we need to raise this money’ … and I can guarantee you that a lot of people will be there, not even just from FIDOS.”

That’s what led to jam-packed city council meetings in which representatives of institutional environmental groups—including the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Utah Environmental Congress—were far outnumbered by the dog advocates.

The preservationists argue that wild bird habitat is rare, and Parley’s Park should be a safe landing pad. But the dog owners see the land scarcity issue in another way. Can’t dog owners have at least one entire park to run free with their pooch?

“I grew up in this area. … As the valley has developed, there have been less and less places to take your dogs [off-leash],” Parley’s park user Tani Gamble says. “So this place has become more busy.”
Former Salt Lake City planning director Stephen Goldsmith, who is now an associate professor at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture & Planning, points out, however, that you don’t need an off-leash area to enjoy the benefits of owning a dog. He says that as Salt Lake County’s population continues to climb—and open space becomes scarcer—dog owners will need to adjust behaviors and compromise. “Salt Lake City metro area now has about 1.2 million [people] … if that trend is destiny, we’ll have several million more. This may be an outdoor mecca, but we’re still going to be growing.” In Manhattan’s Central Park, for example, dogs can be off leash only during certain hours, Goldsmith says. “Those kinds of civilized discussions and negotiations are what we will find ourselves addressing more and more in our community.”

Ball predicts that more, not less, access for off-leash space is in the Salt Lake County’s future. “[Dog owners] won’t take that. You don’t move to the city next to the mountains and expect to walk on sidewalks,” she says. “There’s a reason people live here and there’s a reason people move here.”

Hart, herself a Manhattan transplant to Salt Lake City, agrees. “I have five friends who moved to the Canyon Rim neighborhood in the last two years to be closer to [Parley’s park]. … I used to live in Manhattan. … I came here with no job because I wanted a better quality of life, and I wanted to be able to have a dog and recreate with it—not on a sidewalk.”

Ball says there is no replacement for wide-open, off-leash play with dogs. Leashes and fenced-in play pens, she says, both promote aggressive behavior.

Battles will continue. Ball has a list of nearly a half-dozen areas she has her sights set on for new off-leash areas, including Sandy’s Dimple Dell Park and Big Cottonwood Park on 4500 South and 1300 East. Hart thinks dog owners may soon demand that the Bonneville Shoreline be designated off leash, saying off-leash dog users—though in violation of the law—outnumber other user groups on the trail.

If politicians get in their way, the dog owners show their teeth. Salt Lake City resident Brent Anderson issued a threat on Facebook to city council members that they may face a slate of dog-friendly candidates if they stray too far from the FIDOS line. “Betrayed,” is how Hart, who volunteered on Becker’s various political campaigns for 10 years, feels about the restrictions he proposed. “He came to our candidate forum, and he gave all the right answers, and we endorsed him,” she says. “I am bitter because this administration has done a 180-degree turn from what was promised to a pretty big user group.”

Nevertheless, Becker’s spokeswoman, Lisa Harrison-Smith, says Becker may veto the city council’s plan if it doesn’t adequately protect the riparian habitat. She says maintaining the roughly 12 acres of off-leash dog spaces in Salt Lake City—more than all the official off-leash dog acres in the county, excluding Parley’s and Millcreek Canyon—shows the mayor’s commitment to off-leash areas.

UPDATE: Mayor Becker to veto Parley's Park plan?


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Posted // December 29,2010 at 14:34


You're absolutely right:

"This is about total domination by a special interest that doesn't want to share anything, they want it all because for some unknown reason..."

Currently everyone can use this great park, but you're trying to restricted it with all your "Washington DC" rules. Next thing you know, kids will be banded because Mayor Becker is scared of them. Stop taking away my freedom!

You have aready outlawed dogs from the main canyons, maybe it's time to share?


Posted // December 16,2010 at 16:40

.. 'affluent, entitled..etc' please reconsider. As a dog owner who works 40 hours a week to barely make my bills, I take offense at that. My dog brightens my day, I take good care of him, and make sure that his behavior doesn't inconvenience others. Taking your dog to an off leash park is, like mountian biking, hiking, skateboarding, etc, a recreational activity of choice. The activities mentioned above, and many others, have specific parks dedicated to that use by the county, state, etc. My taxes maintain those parks.. and I do not lobby to get your uses curtailed, no matter how many times I've been mowed down by an over zealous mtn biker. I don't see the issue with one or two parks where my recreational activity is given priority, considering how many are dedicated to other uses. I understand that the environmental impacts carry importance, but given the dedication shown by the dog owners involved (I am not one of them.. yet.. thanks to your responses I'm considering it though..) I believe that a effective maintenance program is realistic option.


Posted // December 20,2010 at 12:24 - Again, J.,not to talk this to death, but there are already acres at this very location to let your dog, and you, do your thing off-leash. And other parks in the area have off-leash areas available, as well. This is about total domination by a special interest that doesn't want to share anything, they want it all because for some unknown reason, they feel that their pet and their relationship with their pet trumps all common sense, governance and community resource sharing. I am 6'4", 230 lbs and I stay in shape and can take care of myself, but I NEVER like a strange dog running up off-leash, snorting my crotch, slathering my loins with snot and mouth goo, clawing mud all over me and my companions and then, as if that's not bad enough, have the owner run up breathlessly with the leash in hand to announce those famous last words,"Oh, don't worry she doesn't bite!" Gee, thanks, now what about all the other bullshit that just went on so your pooch can know the temporary freedom of running wild? J., please, join up and get educated. If my comments have given you new desire to get involved, then it was worth it because you'll find that just beyond the horizon of drama and rhetoric and emotionally-useless team-building to fight "the man," is a county with off-leash designated parks that are willfully being ignored because that would ruin everyone's buzz. And I'll just say it. This is a high-class problem.


Posted // December 15,2010 at 14:24

Fenced or leashed dogs more aggressive? What utter B.S. The only good thing about FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Spaces) is that now, any time anyone gets bit by an unleashed dog, they'll know who to sue since they will be absolutely responsible for any incident...


Posted // December 15,2010 at 09:21

When I was a teenager, my Mom was working for the state of Utah's Child Protective Services literally taking kids with cigarette burns and handcuff bruises out of houses here in Magic Valley. When I complained one day about not having cool socks to wear to junior high, like the other kids, she scolded me that compared to the mother in Africa who was going to wake up that day and dig through the sand with a stick looking for bugs to feed her children, my desire for cool socks was a "high-class" problem and that I needed to get serious.

I feel the same way about these off-leash people. Is this really all you have to think about and work on all day, whether your goddam dog can run free at Tanner Park? How many hours of City Council time, taxpayer funded, have you foolishly wasted on this so-called controversy? You need to grow up and get a life that doesn't require you to act like classless, entitled, affluent little babies.

Perhaps some volunteer work to fill your spare time, like your therapist suggested for years?

FIDO's Hart moved unemployed to Utah from Manhattan to be closer to a place where she could recreate with her dog and it's not a sidewalk?

What, was Canada closed that day?


Posted // December 20,2010 at 12:10 - Thanks, Mick, but I pay for my own kids'education as a homeowner,not a renter, who pays property taxes. And I tastefully had 2 children and stopped just in time for the divorce. And it's not like you don't already have acres at that very same park to let your pooch run free. This is about wanting the whole park to let dogs run free regardless of the impact on watershed and the streambank environment. And, as a dog and cat owner, I can attest that no one thinks your dog is as cute and cuddly and awesome as you do. Willing to share, but not be dominated.


Posted // December 19,2010 at 00:54 - I have no kids and pay a poopload of money in taxes for schools. I do it year after year. I have dogs. This classless, affluent baby will keep on paying for your kids education but after the 6 figures amount of taxes I have paid I would like a little payback in the form of an off-leash area.


Posted // December 15,2010 at 13:22 - Why do I get the feeling these off-leash dog people are the same white, affluent, entitled citizens who waste the council's time creating special circumstances, rules and allowances for people who want to ride their bikes in traffic and obey traffic laws if they feel like it? I don't think they realize how the other 96% of the community feels about them. Their white, powdered wigs are getting a bit stale.


Posted // December 15,2010 at 12:33 - Seriously, dog people. 12 acres is plenty of off-leash space as far as I'm concerned. Just because you moved here for the open spaces and the relative closeness to nature doesn't mean the city's going to bring it to you. Might I suggest moving somewhere less populated next time, like Moab? Salt Lake as a metropolitan area is going to continue to grow and become more urban. I would rather set aside a few acres for an endangered bird than for yuppie dog people. That said, this city would benefit from the tenaciousness of these activists. It would be nice if these people were willing to work towards goals that benefit everyone, not just their own self-interests.