On Monday, 10/7 the city council will again consider whether dogs are an appropriate use on the new Montini Trail. I have a few points to make in that regard.
One, the Montini Trail joins with the Overlook Trail and the Mountain Cemetery where dogs are not permitted. To allow dogs on the primarily privately funded and constructed Overlook would be a breach of understanding with the people who volunteered much time and money to create the trail in the first place. To connect leashed dogs with the cemetery would certainly not be acceptable.
Two, a nature preserve is a place to represent conservation values and not a recreational opportunity for domestic animals that will disturb the very qualities a preserve is intended to foster. Domestic animals do not have “rights” equivalent to a person’s. Dogs belong in a contained environment away from their potential to disturb the nature people go to places like Montini and the Overlook to find. A nature trail is by definition not an extension of town but something different where people go to find solitude, inspiration, quiet etc. National Parks, State Parks, Wilderness Areas all have dog prohibitions for a reason: dogs detract from the ability of people to experience and appreciate nature.
Three, anywhere dogs are allowed on leash it is predictable and inevitable that many people ignore leash restrictions. The Bartholomew Park trail is a perfect case in point; they have a giant sign saying dogs must be leashed but every time I go, there are unleashed dogs including pit bulls, a scary situation. It’s bad enough to deal with an unruly leashed dog on a narrow trail with poison oak all around, let alone one off leash. From the 4/10/13 Press Democrat, Derek Moore article about volunteer groups managing Jack London and Sugar Loaf State Parks: “The main problems have been with people allowing their dogs to run off-leash at the parks.”
– The following quote is directly copied from the Sonoma Valley dog owners and guardians website. This advocacy group has a published strategy to break the rules and count on budget trouble and lack of police to get away with walking dogs in places like the Overlook.
“While hefty fines are possible for taking dogs where they aren’t supposed to be, two factors sometimes operate to avoid a penalty. First, the City, county and state all have serious budget problems and with limited staff and resources available, enforcing dog laws is far down on the list of “Things to Do.” Often only the most egregious dog complaints/behavior will draw public ire or uniformed attention.”
Four, if leashed dogs on allowed on Montini, fines for no leash should have some deterrent value and the rule should be enforceable. A rule is worthless without any dedicated enforcement. Suggestions: allow videos of unleashed dogs to serve as evidence of a ticket-able offense. Work with police to train citizens like myself to make citizen’s arrests of people with unleashed dogs. It is incumbent the city provide enough police to see that rules are enforced and not just words. If the city can’t enforce rules then situations like unleashed dogs on Montini should simply not be allowed in the first place. This is simple prevention of trouble.
Five, I vote for a dog park by the Field of Dreams over leashed dogs on the trail, give these dog lovers something; that seems like a perfect place. Put up a fence and let them run. That way you avoid troubles with the Overlook Trail’s no dog prohibition, State Park no dog restrictions at the Vallejo Home access and in the Mountain Cemetery where dogs are expressly forbidden.
Six, dog lovers already have the Bartholomew Park trail here in town where dogs are allowed on leash. This resource is barely mentioned in the cries for a place to walk a dog. A nice nature trail allowing dogs already exists, a five-minute drive from the Plaza. The Montini/ Overlook system has the chance to be a nice outdoors nature showcase with increased potential for solitude and wildlife viewing. The preservation, conservation and natural values emphasized on Montini will be a nice asset to an increasingly urbanized Sonoma.
Seven, what next? Mountain bike users will have industry money and lawyers behind them to promote the use of their products. If the City opens up use for dogs what logical reason is there then to prohibit mountain bikes? These types of multiple use conflicts happen over and over on public lands. What happens by giving in to multiple use is that natural/ wilderness/ environmental values get increasingly reduced to the lowest common denominator. The city might be better served to let sleeping dogs lie on the Montini and Overlook and reserve these trails for hikers only.