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Ridge Rovers seek to prove off-leash leadership

Members of the Ridge Rovers dog group say they have a year to prove to fellow Snoqualmie residents that the newly-opened, temporary off-leash dog park in the S-15 Ridge community park deserves to become a permanent asset.

The group celebrated the opening of the new park at a ribbon cutting on Saturday, May 2.

At opening, the Ridge Rovers numbered 65 people and about 100 dogs, but that number is expected to grow as more people discover the park, located off Jacobia Street near the Snoqualmie Parkway.

The off-leash area was built by Ridge builder Murray Franklin. Ridge Rovers will maintain the park, and local scooping business Poopless in Seattle will inspect and clean up a few times each week, although dog owners are expected to pick up after their dogs. Bags are provided at the site.

The Ridge Rovers will be holding new dog groups to help introduce dogs and their owners to off-leash play. Poopless in Seattle will also offer a hygeniencs class.

"If we start them together and they meet at a certain time, they tend to socialize quicker," Rovers member George Isaacs said.

Dogs learn

As dogs Odin, Buster, Koa and Pepper race and play, a new dog, Kaya, is learning how to get along.

Kaya wears a muzzle so he won't bite the other dogs. She's not used to roughhousing with other dogs, but is becoming part of the group, thanks to the off-leash area.

"You can't do this on a leash," Isaacks said. "This is part of what's really good about a dog park. It's a socialization thing."

"Walking your dog on a leash is akin to solitary confinement," he added.

The temporary off-leash park, about 15,000 square feet, was built in April, but the dog group has been active in city parks discussions since last June.

When the south Ridge park came up for approval, the group came before the city and staked its claim on the importance of an off-leash area. Isaacs believes the group's passion helped inspire Murray Franklin to build it.

S-15 park would include two soccer fields, a football field, a jogging track, tennis court, two playground areas, a covered picnic shelter, restrooms and a storage building. It would be about the same size as Centennial Field.

The S-15 dog park currently stands where the parking area is slated to go.

In April, Snoqualmie Parks and Recreation Director Al Frank sent a letter to the Ridge Rovers, reminding them of the new park's temporary nature. The park is private, and is not a city facility.

Frank agrees that the Rovers have at least a year to prove their leadership at the temporary park, possibly more time, depending on the health of the housing market.

"The only city-recognized dog park at this time is at Three Forks," Frank stated.

The city has discussed building an off-leash area at what is currently slated for a greenbelt on the rim of the S-15 community park.

"We've tossed that around," Frank said. "But nothing has been approved. There's no funding available."

Money's not the issue, Isaacs said.

"This is paid for by Murray Franklin," he said.

The Rovers said their needs aren't met by Snoqualmie's existing dog park at Three Forks. They cited distance, a lack of parking, safety and aesthetic concerns as negatives.

"It's in the slough, and it's mushy all the time," said Ridge Rover member Steven Silverman.

"The idea is to do something environmentally thoughtful, helping our dogs and ourselves get out in the environment that we like," he added. "Why should I drive my car four-plus miles to spew gas to do something healthy.We can walk up here."

Three Forks Park provides an off-leash area for dogs, but is not fenced on all sides. Barriers to dogs include blackberry bushes and the slough itself.

The city has also discussed putting an off-leash area at a potential park site near Osprey Court, currently outside city limits. That area would not include amenities like parking or bathrooms.

Isaacs dismisses the Osprey possibility, countering that the group shouldn't be negotiating on land the city isn't developing yet.

"If we allow that to become the 'park of the future,' by the time that may become available, there will be no other parks left," he said. "We would like to negotiate on things they can negotiate with.

"Due to the timing of development, there's only one park left that this could go into, and that's here," at S-15.

"We realize this is a temporary spot," Isaacs added. "We realize that this is probably the wrong place to put it, right in the center."

The dog park could take a new shape on the edges of the new community park. Frank also agreed that the fencing used in the temporary park could be used to build an off-leash area in the greenbelt. He also agrees that the city has been encouraging a walking-oriented community.

Currently, a group of residents including Ridge Rovers is meeting as the "off-leash dog park" subcommittee to the city parks board, exploring areas and potential for a new park, including at S-15.

"That's the most viable spot for a dog area," Frank said.

If Murray Franklin comes through with fencing for the area and the Ridge Rovers provide bark materials and maintain it, there's little for the city left to do, according to Frank. The arrangement would be similar to a deal for the Snoqualmie bike park made with Dirt Corps.

The subcommittee meetings are not on a fixed schedule, Frank said, but are open to the public.

Parks role

According to Isaacs, some 70 percent of Snoqualmie dogs live on the Ridge.

"We need to do this for our dogs," Isaacs said. "We can't understand what more can be the problem. We've got it covered."

Pets continue to play a larger role on the community, and many cities are discovering that off-leash areas are needed.

Isaacs said that dog owners are on of the most consistent groups of park users. Many Ridge residents live on small lots, and want to exercise their dogs.

"We want to have a park for ourselves," Isaacs said.

"What we'd like to see in the next year and a half is that people will realize what good stewards of the park we are, that this is a need to be filled, and that they move forward with making this a permanent reality for residents on the Ridge."

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