Dog owners still mad over park

Plead with parks commission to keep off-leash area open

West Maple Ridge residents will be hitting the roads in order to give their pooches some free-run excercise after June 10, as time runs out on the Volker Park off-leash area.

For Gordon and Doris Westrand, that means driving to Pitt Meadows, or as far as Port Coquitlam so their little terrier Spud can tear around safely in an enclosed off-leash dog area and hang out with his buds.

“We’re lucky. We have the resources to travel,” Gordon said Tuesday after a plea by dog owners at Thursday’s parks and leisure services commission meeting to keep the Maple Ridge park open.

“Those people who don’t have the resources to travel, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

The Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Parks and Leisure Services Commission decided to close the off-leash area – one of seven in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows – at its April 10 meeting after hearing from some nearby residents.

Dog lovers then appealed to commissioners at the May 15 meeting.

“The whole problem was the lack of openness and inclusiveness in this thing,” said Gordon.

A petition with 1,200 names was presented, calling for the park to remain open. There was also a smaller petition by those who wanted the park closed.

“Isn’t that a lot of names?” Doris said of the first petition. “Shouldn’t that have an influence, you think?” she asked.

She pointed out that during the meeting, commission members were saying they wanted public input on a variety issues. They received it that evening on the dog park, she said.

“I think they had a core people who absolutely did not want the park.”

She maintains staff weren’t given a chance to fix the problems caused by the park. Staff weren’t given enough time to grow grass in the area to cut down on the dust caused by dogs running around. Noise could have been reduced by planting trees and shrubs.

“But if you’re someone who hates that park and doesn’t want it there, you just need to have one bark and that’s enough.”

Gordon made a presentation to the commission saying no real process preceded the decision and that the process was one-sided. He asked to have the decision tabled for the time being.

“They didn’t respond. They stayed silent.”

Gordon disagreed with some commissioners’ comments that vandalism and violence could increase if the park remained.

Last July 2013, dog walkers found broken auto glass in the off-leash area.

And a month ago, Westrand and his wife found about 40 tacks strewn on the ground.

But noise, not vandalism, was the deciding factor, parks director David Boag said earlier.

“The commission just felt it was just too great a burden to put on folks in that neighbourhood.”

For Gordon though, “the puppy poisoner has won.”

The decision also angered dog owner Wayne Clark, who said in a letter: “I have to wonder what kind of world we are now living in where a few bullies and psychopaths can force change on all the rest of us.”

Clark, who’s dog was poisoned and almost died, said if the vandalism had been directed at school children, the culprits would have been caught and the school kept open.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said the commission’s April 7-4 decision was made at a regular, open meeting. It’s not subject to being overruled by Maple Ridge council.

“I don’t want to undermine the commission. The majority rules.”

He voted against closing the park, though.

“I think that two months is too quick.”

Staff had recommended shorter hours at the park to cut down on the noise.

Staff will have a report next month on options available after the park closing.

Other off-leash dog areas in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows:

• Albion Fairgrounds;

• Hoffman Park;

• Jerry Sulina Park;

• North Bonson Park;

• leash optional dike trail from the Pitt River Bridge to Pitt Meadows Marina (new);

• leash option dike trail from the north end of Harris Road in Pitt Meadows, which offers both north and south walking trails (new).