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Too close to Ashland Creek, Bluebird Park off-limits to dogs

One month after opening nine parks to dogs, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission has decided to make downtown's Bluebird Park off-limits because of concerns about dog waste entering adjacent Ashland Creek and potential damage to the riparian area.

The parks department announced the opening of nine parks to dogs, including Bluebird Park, in late October. Previously, Ashland had some of the most restrictive rules on dogs in parks of any West Coast city.

At a Monday night Parks Commission meeting, Commissioner Rick Landt said he had reflected further on the idea of dogs in Bluebird Park and decided they might not be appropriate there.

The tiny park at the corner of Main and Water streets directly fronts Ashland Creek. It has a paved walkway and easy access to the water.

"One of our key assets that we've tried to protect is Ashland Creek and Ashland Creek's riparian area. The pathway through Bluebird Park is right along the creek," Landt said on Monday.

Parks Director Don Robertson said Ashland Creek has long had a problem with bacterial contamination from feces.

A 2010 study found that a major source of that contamination is an area along a Talent Irrigation District canal trail frequented by people and dogs. The canal has a water outfall that drains into Ashland Creek.

"We have more than anecdotal proof that the presence of dog feces can harm the creek," Robertson said.

People have been urged to clean up after their dogs along the TID trail.

Commissioners Rich Rosenthal and Jim Lewis voiced concerns that removing Bluebird Park from the new list of parks that are open to dogs could be confusing to residents and visitors, but voted with Landt to close the park to dogs. Commissioners Stefani Seffinger and JoAnne Eggers were not present at the meeting.

Parks workers finished installing signs and waste bag stations at the newly opened parks in October.

Signage and a waste bag station at Bluebird Park were removed on Tuesday, parks officials said.

If Bluebird Park had remained open to dogs, it might have seen heavy use from dog owners — especially tourists — because of its downtown location and proximity to several hotels.

Access to the park is limited for now because old wooden stairs that led into the park from the south on Main Street have been removed.

Robertson said the stairs have been repaired in the past, but parks workers became concerned they might not be able to hold the weight of more than one person.

The wooden stairs will be replaced with a steel frame set of stairs that will take a few months to manufacture, Robertson said.

People can still access Bluebird Park on its north side, he said.

Parks that have been newly opened to dogs for a one-year trial are Clay Street, Garden Way, Garfield, Hunter, Railroad, Scenic, Sherwood and Triangle. Officials will assess the success of the trial period in fall 2012.

Dogs are not allowed to roam everywhere in those parks. They must remain on leashes of 6 feet or shorter, and are only allowed on paved or cement surfaces or within six feet of those surfaces.

Owners must keep control of leashes at all times. They must carry something to pick up their dogs' waste, or use the newly installed waste bag stations at designated parks, officials said.

Owners who do not pick up after their pets risk being cited, parks officials said.

Dogs long have been allowed at the Dog Park off Nevada Street, on several pieces of undeveloped parkland and in the forested Siskiyou Mountain Park and Oredson Todd Woods at the top of Park Street.

Lithia Park and North Mountain Park remain off-limits to dogs.

For a map of dog-friendly parks in Ashland, visit http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/DogFriendly.pdf.

That map still includes Bluebird Park and will have to be updated.

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