Panel: Don't ban dogs on N. Douglas trail

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Fido may get to stay on the Rainforest Trail.

The city's Parks and Recreation Committee on Tuesday objected to plans to ban dogs on the North Douglas trail, suggesting the proposal be sent to the city's Trails Working Group for more study. The city's Parks and Recreation Department had planned to ban dogs on the Outer Point-area trail starting May 1 to protect wildlife and habitat.

More than a dozen people testified against the proposal at Tuesday's meeting. Many also argued a more thorough public process is needed. North Douglas resident and dog owner Soapy Lingle said the city hasn't demonstrated the harm to wildlife from dogs on the trail.

"My concern is that if we close this trail to dogs ... what next?" he said. "My opinion is that no trails in Juneau should be closed to dogs unless there have been documented studies of harm."

The committee's recommendation will be turned over to city Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer, who will make the ultimate decision when she returns to town later this week, said city Recreation Superintendent Cristi Herren. The nine-member volunteer committee, which is appointed by the Juneau Assembly, advises the Parks and Recreation Department.

"Perhaps there are trails that should be closed to dogs, but not in this process," committee member Joan Herbage O'Keefe said.

The city proposed the ban to shelter small mammals such as marten, marmot and mink, which are scared away by dogs and the scent of dogs, according to information from Parks and Rec. The city doesn't plan to close other trails to dogs, but may make new trails planned for the Amalga Harbor area dog-free because they cross delicate habitat and wildlife areas, according to the department.

Trail Mix Executive Director James King, who was speaking for himself, not the organization, said the Rainforest Trail was intended for nature-viewing when it was developed.

"Not all trails are for all users," he said. "Some trails are for horses, some trails are for commercial use, some trails are for motorized use. ... Maybe the answer to this is exploring a larger process."

The Rainforest Trail, open to commercial and public use, was built by Trail Mix with cruise ship passenger fee money in 2001 as an alternative to the nearby Outer Point Trail. Gastineau Guiding owner Bob Janes said his company took about 5,000 visitors for hikes on the trail last year and had few problems with dogs.

"Most of our customers enjoy dogs," he said. "We don't have issues with dogs on the trail."

Janes said it might be worth turning the dog-free trail issue over to the Trails Working Group for broader public discussion. The group ironed out differences about commercial use on local trails and includes representatives from the city, state, U.S. Forest Service, the visitor industry and the public.

Bob Small, a North Douglas resident and wildlife biologist, said Rainforest Trail is bordered by a highway, parking lot and another trail with long-term dog use. Dogs can have a negative impact on wildlife and habitat, but the Rainforest trail isn't a particularly sensitive area, he said.

"It's a small fragment of habitat and there's lots of that type of habitat in Juneau," he said. "It's not critical habitat for those species."

The Gastineau Humane Society, which is in charge of animal control and enforcement in the city, wasn't consulted about the change ahead of time, according to Executive Director Chava Lee. A proactive information campaign might be a better way to deal with the issue, she said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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