Free To Roam

A new pilot program in seven Boise, Idaho, parks gives dogs room to roam off-leash during designated morning and evening hours.

The one-year pilot project was launched in April 2011 after an extensive public-awareness campaign that included direct-mail postcards sent to 12,749 neighbors of eight park sites, eight public meetings, and an online survey. Comments also were submitted via phone and e-mail. An astonishing 3,400 people responded to the online survey.

The campaign generated interest from print and broadcast media, as well as from blogs and letters to the editor.

In a February 15, 2011, editorial, the Idaho Statesman praised the public process used to identify the park sites and solicit public opinion. “This is no easy job of consensus-building. The divisions that are the stuff of a lofty political-science thesis--conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat--have nothing on the fault line between dog people and non-dog people. Passion fuels the tensions.”

Public Response

While there have been strong opinions on both sides of the issue, data gathered in a citywide survey showed that citizens were keenly interested in seeing more recreational opportunities for dogs. A household survey conducted in 2009 for an update of the department’s five-year comprehensive plan showed that 60 percent of respondents owned dogs. When asked, “Should dogs be allowed in parks off-leash?” only 28 percent of respondents answered “yes.” However, 67 percent supported designated dog on-leash and dog off-leash times.

Identifying appropriate sites was no small feat. Boiseans love their parks--in a recent survey 77 percent of local residents visited a city park at least once a month.

The survey data helped fuel a decision by the nine-member Boise Parks & Recreation Commission to develop a process for creating off-leash hours, says President Cissy Madigan. Thanks to a postcard mailing and neighborhood meetings, the commission received a flood of comments--positive and negative.

Selecting Locations

Although the commission originally considered eight parks, only seven were approved for the project. “We excluded one site because public support wasn’t as solid,” says Madigan.

A list of criteria was used to help identify possible parks:

• Existing activities

• Drop-in use patterns

• Parking and pathways

• Natural barriers, such as berms and trees

• Maintenance concerns

• Financial implications

• Wildlife concerns

• Restrooms

• Geographic diversity.

Additional consideration was given to consistency of off-leash hourly or seasonal use throughout the park system. The department’s goal was to make the plan as consistent as possible in order to clearly communicate the rules, hours, and locations to park users, staff, and enforcement officers.

“Our goal is to be good stewards of the land and respectful of neighbors and park users, while providing more opportunities for dog owners who have been anxious to find accessible places to exercise their pets,” says Mollie Holt, superintendent of administration at Boise Parks & Recreation.

The pilot project follows more than a decade of meetings and public input. Since 1997, Boise has sought to develop more dog off-leash opportunities in city parks and Foothills trails. Staff members have visited other communities, gathered public opinion, and invited experts to provide recommendations.

Currently, the city maintains three dog parks--an unfenced flood-retention basin at Military Reserve Park, a 1-acre enclosed site in fully developed Morris Hill Park, and a temporary 1-acre enclosed area at the undeveloped Pine Grove Park site.

Some local dog owners prefer to take their pets on trails in the nearby Boise Foothills. On public land, dogs can run off-leash if they are not disturbing wildlife or causing a safety concern to other trail users. In these “controlled off-leash” areas, dog owners still must carry a leash and waste bag with them, and their dogs should not be farther than 30 feet away at any time.

The off-leash pilot program in parks, however, is more accessible to people in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“We worked really hard to offer a geographic mix of locations that could serve a wide variety of neighborhoods,” says Holt. “While not everyone is happy with behavior at all sites, thus far the pilot seems to be going well, and dog owners have been following the rules and regulations.”

Enforcing The Rules

Signs installed at each location help educate park users about designated off-leash areas as well as the program’s rules and regulations. Owners are required to pick up after their pets. Contact information and website information are displayed prominently.

Animal-control officers and park staff are closely monitoring compliance with the rules and conducting ongoing evaluations of seasonal park-use patterns.

“I think the program has been going fairly well,” says Stuart Prince, parking and licensing-enforcement supervisor for the city. During the first two months of the program, the city’s two animal-control officers have increased the number of citations issued in order to step up education and outreach activities. In April, they issued 66 warnings--20 percent more than in the previous month.

Some of the warnings were in parks not included in the pilot site, Prince says. “They have been issuing more warnings than usual mainly because of confusion about the hours.”

Some residents heard about the program, but assumed that all parks were off-leash, he says.

For more information, visit .

Formerly an Administrative Assistant for Boise Parks & Recreation, Jamie Heinzerling is now the Deputy City Clerk.

Amy Stahl is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Boise Parks & Recreation. She can be reached via e-mail at