A Brief History of Dogs and Open Space*

1959: Leash Laws

It was the fall of 1959 and the proposed Dog Leash Law was the hottest issue in Boulder since fires burned Flagstaff Mountain the previous summer.

The law would require all dogs in Boulder to be confined at all times either on their own premises, or, when away from home, on a leash held by a person responsible for the dog, or in a vehicle, or otherwise contained. In other words, no dog would be allowed off-leash, even if under control, for example when jogging or walking next to their owner.

The proposed leash law sparked a spirited debate in The Daily Camera. Arguments for the law stated the need to protect people and property. Arguments against the leash law ranged from “the present law is sufficient,” to “please don’t imprison our best friends.”

The dog leash law was adopted by a mere 564-vote margin.

1967: Beginning of Open Space

In 1967 the City of Boulder implemented a sales tax for the purpose of purchasing open space lands many of which were located outside the city in Boulder County.

In response to pleas by dog owners, City Council passed an ordinance that allowed dogs to be off-leash on what later would become Open Space (including already owned Mountain Parks) if they were under the control of their owners.

By 1994 the City’s Open Space holdings had grown to 32,000 acres. As part of its proposed Long-Range Management policy, Open Space staff proposed that dogs must be leashed on all Open Space land.

FIDOS is created

There was explosion of public sentiment against the proposed leash law. Boulder residents who enjoyed hiking Open Space trails with their dogs joined together to create a group called Friends Interested In Dogs and Open Space– FIDOS– and marshaled support to oppose what many saw as arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions.

Public sentiment supported FIDOS, and by February 1995, FIDOS had grown into an organization with 1500 members.

1996: Stricter regulations on dogs

In 1996, after two years of negotiations, the Boulder City Council unanimously adopted what came to be known as Boulder’s Dog Management Plan. The plan set stricter regulations for dogs on open space and mountain parks lands but still preserved voice and sight on most trails.

2005: Visitor Master Plan increases dog restrictions

Following the consolidation of the city’s Open Space Department with the city’s Mountain Parks Department in 2000, work began on a Visitor Master Plan (VMP) for all open space and mountain parks lands. The VMP replaced the previously crafted Dog Management Plan.

Adopted in April 2005, Boulder’s VMP increased dog restrictions on thirty-one trails. In addition, several new “seasonal leashing” requirements were implemented and work would soon begin on individual Trail Study Areas (TSA) which would, among other things, “fine tune” trail regulations further restricting dogs.

Trail Study Areas: More losses

To date Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) staff and members of the community have reviewed what is now referred to as South Trail Study Area (STSA) and the West Trail Study Area (WTSA), and made recommendations to City Council for their approval. In both cases, dogs and their people have been further restricted from recreating on Open Space.

Since the inception of the VMP and TSA’s we have lost access to over twenty-five trails that we once enjoyed with our dogs on V&S, and have been corralled into smaller and smaller areas of Open Space land.

FIDOS will keep it’s members informed when North and East Trail Area studies begin in the near future.

FIDOS pushes back

However, not all was lost. FIDOS in concert with many supporters of dogs on Open Space worked with City Council explaining why two trails in particular in the WTSA, Saddle Rock and Tenderfoot/Chapman Drive, should not be changed from Voice and Sight (V&S) to no-dogs allowed at all. City Council voted unanimously to preserve V&S on these trails, and mandated that another no-dog trail be identified suitable for families with small children and senior citizens who would prefer not to encounter dogs.

In the spirit of collaboration and understanding that a small minority of people prefer a “no-dog” experience on Open Space, FIDOS worked with OSMP to identify an alternative no-dog trail. Earlier this year City Council accepted our recommendation that Boy Scout Trail become a no-dog trail.

FIDOS going forward

FIDOS continues to champion preserving off– and on– leash access for dogs and their guardians to enjoy Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks while also being committed to protecting our natural environment. See Our Philosophy for more information.

* Adapted from an op-ed piece by Gene Wheaton published in the Boulder Daily Camera, February 1, 1998.