Leashes become a bone of contention

Robert E. Lee Park issues include rules for dogs

October 30, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

With all the growling, you'd have thought you were at an old-fashioned dogfight.

Dog owners who let their pets roam Robert E. Lee Park and park patrons who don't like the animals to run free sat on opposite sides at a public meeting at Roland Park Elementary School.

Sparks flew, but gradually some agreement was reached on 17 points of improvement for the park. Park users discussed rebuilding a tattered pedestrian bridge, making the park accessible to the handicapped and improving picnic areas and the signs on Falls Road leading to the park just north of the Baltimore City line.

The roughly 100 people who attended last week's meeting agreed on nearly everything, with one notable exception: dogs and leashes, and whether they go together in the 456-acre park around Lake Roland.

City and county planners, who are working to develop a master plan for the open space -- it is owned by the city but sits in Baltimore County -- said they were encouraged by the dialogue.

Planners said the forum helped them move along in the process, though no formal decisions or policies were announced.

"We didn't get consensus on the dogs, but on everything else, I'm encouraged," said Mary Porter, the city recreation and parks planner and landscape architect who helped lead the discussion.

For years, families and joggers have grumbled about nips and bites from large dogs running free and about public health dangers from dog waste and rabies. In addition, officials said, the lakeshore is eroding because of the numbers of dogs that run the trails.

City planners said the lake has a severe sedimentation problem that might require dredging.

"I have young kids, and people [with dogs] on the trails have been very disrespectful," park user Greg Gann said at the meeting.

Betsy and MacKenzie Walser, whose house overlooks the park, said the park rightfully belongs to people and dogs. Other dog owners hinted that they might not "buy into" proposals that would not give more freedom to them and their pets.

Under city and county law, dogs are supposed to be on leashes at all times in the park, but county police have enforced the law rigorously, park users said. Marvin F. Billups Jr., the city's recreation and parks commissioner, said the master plan will not allow dogs to run free because that is "illegal, pure and simple."

One possible solution, he suggested, would be to designate an area for dogs to run off-leash and close it off with a secure fence.

Whether that area might be on a popular peninsula or in an area now used by rugby players on the L'Hirondelle Club Road entrance was undecided.

Gennady Schwartz, a city recreation and parks official, said he favors the rugby field site for dog management. "It would be ideal, with no impact on the rest of the park," he said.

Bob Ferris of Towson said that regardless of the conflict, the park's attractions make it worth the trouble. "It's a public space that works, that urban planners dream about," he said.

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