Dog waste and traffic are forcing a major rethink of Elk Meadow, Colorado’s greatest dog park

I have seen doggy heaven. It’s about 40 minutes west of Denver. Unfortunately, it’s also covered in poop.

A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)

I have seen doggy heaven. It’s about 40 minutes west of Denver.

This is a place where you, a dog, can run unbridled for miles. You can tear through the underbrush and weave through the trees, up the steep hillsides and down through the meadows, where you can leap through the snow and roll in the creek.

Unfortunately, so can several thousand of your friends, and it’s getting to be a burden. Jefferson County has called three community meetings to address the environmental impacts and traffic issues that have come with the massive popularity of Elk Meadow Dog Off-Leash Area, a hundred-acre canine bonanza in Evergreen.

“There’s been lots of talk of us just going in and blindly closing the park. It’s certainly one management approach, but it’s not one we would like to take,” said Matt Robbins, communications manager for Jeffco Open Space. “We would like to provide public engagement. We want these folks to hear what we’re doing and hear from them.”

A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
Hounds meeting at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
First, some background:

Elk Meadow is a free, off-leash dog park at 32391 Stagecoach Boulevard.

It began as a much smaller enclosed area in the mid-2000s. People began leaving the fenced area and proceeding into the adjacent public land.

“We proactively went in and put up signage, put up proper trails. It’s a series of about five different loops,” Robbins said. Word spread quickly, because this place is seriously unlike any other dog park I’ve ever seen.

“Folks are doing exactly what we designed it to do and what we hoped it would do,” Robbins said.

A dog and a person at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
A dog and a person at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
And now, the issues:

Dog waste:

People suck, and dogs defecate outside. Therefore, dog poop gets left outside. Three recent volunteer events resulted in the collection of some 500 pounds of loose feces — and, yes, they weighed it.

The big problem here is that a creek runs through the middle of the dog park, with steep slopes on either side. Turds roll down hill, and as a result the creek has tested with “extremely high” levels of the bacteria E. coli.

Vegetation destruction:

Jefferson County estimates that 4,000 people visit in a typical week. That’s a lot of people for just a few loops of trail. The foot traffic has destroyed plants, which contributes to soil erosion.

“These environmental issues, we can’t turn away from,” Robbins said. “We’ve seen the resource really, really being challenged and stressed.”

Vehicle traffic:

The park is just off two-lane Stagecoach Road. Its parking area fills up often, forcing visitors to park on its narrow shoulders.

“We saw, in one 24-hour day, over 3,400 cars travel that road. The speed limit is 40 mph, and the average speed was 52 mph,” Robbins said.

That’s a safety concern, he said. There isn’t a good place for more parking, but the county has installed new signage and a blinking light.

A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
An explorer. (Jeffco Open Space)
A dog whom I don't know. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
A dog whom I don’t know. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Potential solutions:

Obviously, the county could simply close the park or cut away its appeal by outlawing off-leash dogs. Robbins has said that everything is on the table, though the county hasn’t specifically identified this as a proposal.

Others have suggested, Robbins said, that the county consider paying people to clean up waste or even institute a reservation system. Again, no comments on the specifics from the county. The county also has tried installing more signage.

Nothing will happen without serious engagement with the community, Robbins said — but the county really wants to figure out its next step before the spring thaw.

The meetings:

The first community meeting is on Thursday, January 19, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at the Buchanan Recreation Center, 32003 Ellingwood Trail, Evergreen, Colorado, 80439.

The next meetings will be Feb. 9 and Feb. 23. Meeting materials will be posted here.

Going there:

Oh, you’re still into it? Like I said, the trailhead is at 32391 Stagecoach Blvd., Evergreen. You should bring hiking shoes for yourself, as it gets pretty muddy and steep, and fresh water for your dog. You can easily keep yourselves entertained for two or three hours.

That’s all! Here are more dogs!

A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
A dog at the Elk Meadow dog park. (Jeffco Open Space)
Some other dog I don't know. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Some other dog I don’t know. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.