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Dog owners want to unleash Pritchard Park

Moves underway to clarify off-leash regulations in the public park.

Pritchard Park’s sandy beaches and open space make it an ideal location for people to enjoy a summer day.

And just as often, those people are accompanied by their dogs.

After Pritchard Park became city property, it has slowly become a de-facto off-leash area for islander’s furry companions.

“It’s perfect for that purpose,” said Cave Avenue resident David Ward. “The beach is contained on both ends, there is no nearby traffic and beaches can handle a lot of use.”

However, there is one problem, Ward said.

“Technically it’s illegal.”

According to the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code, it is unlawful for owners to let their dogs roam “at large” in public.

Now Ward, joined by a handful of islanders who have used Pritchard Park as an off-leash area, feel it’s time to make the designation formal.

“It would seem appropriate, rather than ignore it,” Ward said. “We should recognize that people use it and see that reasonable guidelines are in place.”

Currently, there is only one off-leash area on the island – a one-acre enclosure located in Eagledale Park, off Rose Avenue.

The Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District, which co-owns Pritchard Park with the city, has recognized the need to create more off-leash areas in island parks.

“We are looking to expand off-leash areas over time,” said park district Senior Planner Perry Barrett. “There is discussion about it generally in the community and plans for Pritchard Park don’t preclude (an off-leash area) as a possibility.”

In the recently adopted the 2008-2014 Park District Comprehensive Plan, the district singles out four sites for potential off-leash areas, Battle Point Park, the Hidden Cove area, Strawberry Hill Park and Pritchard Park. All were selected because of their dispersed geographical locations, which is meant to provide nearby access to a majority of the population.

Although the subject hasn’t been formally brought to the park district board, Barrett said an off-leash area wouldn’t affect planning for the Japanese memorial or the Wyckoff Superfund site.

The park would likely need city approval as well.

Ward’s idea has garnered some interest from council members who have begun looking at off-leash options at the committee level.

“Both those for and those against dogs at Pritchard have asked for some user rules for the park to help insure health and safety for all users,” said council member Debbie Vancil.

Vancil sits on the Community Relations Committee. The committee broached the subject this week and will be gathering information on this issue to take to the city council and park district for consideration.

“I think it’s a reasonable request and my intention is to float it in front of the public to see if there are any comments, and see if we can do something about it,” said council member Bill Knobloch, who has also worked on the issue.

Ward, who has two bird dogs, knows that dog owners will likely continue to use the park as an off-leash area with or without the formal designation. But he believes the designation could give dog-owning islanders a broader sense of ownership of their parks.

“Sometimes there are over two dozen dogs down there,” Ward said. “This could be an opportunity for the users of the park to become stewards of the park in a formal manner.”

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