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Mili, a Chihuahua owned by Rosil Rivera of Medford, sits in Garfield Park Tuesday in Ashland. The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is relaxing some of the rules banning dogs from city parks. Dogs will still be banned from Lithia and North Mountain parks, but will get access to walkways in some other Ashland parks.

Cutting dogs some slack

ASHLAND — The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department will loosen some of its rules banning dogs from most developed parks as soon as workers can install waste bag stations and signs notifying people of the changes.

That could take about two months, Parks Director Don Robertson estimated this week.

The elected Ashland Parks Commission, which governs park operations, voted Monday to allow dogs in nine neighborhood parks.

Dogs still are not allowed in Lithia Park or North Mountain Park, which has a natural area frequented by birds, beavers, muskrats, foxes and other wildlife.

Dogs must remain on leashes and must stay within 6 feet of sidewalks and paved paths.

Dog owners also must carry supplies such as bags to clean up dog waste immediately. Failure to do so can result in a fine of about $200 per violation.

The parks that will be opened to dogs are Bluebird Park, Clay Street Park, Garden Way Park, Garfield Park, Hunter Park, the Railroad Park, Scenic Park, Sherwood Park and Triangle Park.

The changes are on a one-year trial basis.

Parks commissioners will assess how the new rules work out after that time and decide whether to make the changes permanent, repeal them or change them.

The one-year trial begins once signs and waste bag stations have been installed at parks.

Parks Commissioner Rick Landt, who voted with the commission majority to loosen rules on dogs in parks, said he believed it was time for Ashland to liberalize its dog laws.

However, he said changes should be done incrementally and with feedback along the way, rather than allowing leashed dogs to roam everywhere in parks as some dog lovers have advocated.

Commissioners Landt, Stefani Seffinger, Rich Rosenthal and Jim Lewis voted to loosen rules on dogs in parks, while Commissioner JoAnne Eggers voted against the changes.

Eggers said Ashland already has problems enforcing its dog laws, noting that she often spots dogs illegally in Lithia Park.

"I think we should get a handle on the enforcement issue before we open new parks to dogs," she said.

Seffinger and Rosenthal wanted commissioners to go even further to allow leashed dogs in wider areas of Ashland's parks, but couldn't gain the support of enough fellow commissioners.

"We're incredibly restrictive in terms of the entire nation," Seffinger said.

In a survey of parks departments along the West Coast, Ashland parks staff learned that Ashland is one of two cities with the most restrictive laws on dogs in parks.

Parks commissioners said they want to address the issue of dogs in Lithia Park in the future.

Dog owners currently can walk their dogs on Winburn Way, a paved road that travels through the park.

Parks commissioners said they want to explore ideas such as striping a "dog lane" similar to a bike lane on the road, or building sidewalks.

Parks staff have recommended painting a dog lane on Winburn Way to allow dogs and their owners to walk more safely through lower Lithia Park. Dogs would be allowed to walk on the Old Pioneer Street trail that overlooks upper Lithia Park.

Commissioners did not take action on those recommendations.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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