By Karli Miller
Tug right, tug left, a sniff here, and a sniff there; a dog owner’s nightmare. While walking their dogs, the owners often want a steady pace, but dogs have a different agenda. They want to mark their territory every few feet, venture off the trail and into the dirt. Dog parks are a place that dogs can let loose and run free, but there is always the fear of roads, and no place for the dog owner to exercise.
Although a large amount of the Duluth community owns dogs, Duluth hasn’t accommodated the needs of our canines, with only one small dog park in West Duluth: Keene Creek Park.
“Duluth is blessed with countless random walks and open land, we just don’t have the resources to make them into dog parks,” said President of Duluth’s Park and Recreation Commission, Nick Lansing. “What it comes down to is we don’t have the budget or volunteers to open more dog parks.”
A park not owned by the city has a little more flexibility. Just up Rice Lake Road is Snowflake, the "Spirit Mountain" for Nordic skiers. It is composed of over 15 kilometers of trails and just under 200 acres of land. After the snow melts and the season is over, the Snowflake community unleashes their dogs and lets them run the trails, but of course, under certain conditions. Dog owners must be members of Snowflake and they must clean up after their dog.
“The people who use the [Snowflake] trails take really good care of the place. I have seen people pick up after dogs that aren’t even theirs’,” said Snowflake member Sierra Jefferson.
For about 15 years Snowflake has given its members the opportunity to “unleash” their dogs on the off-season.
“I think that I am going to create some kind of program that allows people to buy a membership for the off season to use the trails. The cost and details are still in the works,” said Snowflake owner George Hovland, who co-owns the park with his wife Jane.
Many Duluth community members may have not been aware of this “dog heaven,” where both the dog and dog owner can exercise at their own pace and leisure.
“If there were more dog parks, places where dogs were welcome, people are more likely to get out and be active with their pets,” Jefferson said.
With few places in Duluth to unleash dogs, there are still many beautiful trails to hike, which can tempt dog owners to bend the rules.
“Informally, the majority of people don’t leash their dogs when they are out hiking, which can create conflict," Lansing said.
A conflict may arise when a dog comes nose to nose with someone who doesn’t love dogs. It’s these people who want dog parks for a different reason.
“I really wish I could feel safer and less afraid walking in the parks alone,” said Washburn Edison language arts teacher Mary Lynch. “I always bring someone with me in case an unleashed dog comes running at me.”
Dog lover or not, the Duluth community agrees for the most part there is a need for more dog parks like Snowflake, a dog heaven, where all dogs are welcome.