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Off-leash pooch advocates collared during Bull Creek closing

Monday, November 30, 2009 by Laurel Chesky

While it’s closed for restoration, Bull Creek District Park will not be replaced with another temporary off-leash dog park in the area. That blow was dealt to off-leash dog park advocates at a community forum last week. The forum, held at the Northwest Recreation Center at FM 2222 and MoPac, was the second one this month by city staff to hash out the details of the Bull Creek Park restoration plan.

 

Bull Creek Park, located along Lakewood Drive south of Loop 360, has been designated as an off-leash dog park for 12 years and is one of a dozen such parks in the city. However, concerns about water quality and soil degradation led the city in September to at least temporarily revoke that designation. The southwest portion of the park will close Dec. 1 for restoration and is expected to reopen in June 2010. Whether or not dogs will be allowed to run free in the park when it reopens remains to be seen.

 

PARD director Sara Hensley had promised park users that the city would look for another park in the northwest part of town where dogs could run unfettered while Bull Creek is closed, according to Kyle Allen, vice president of Bull Creek Dog Owners Group, which is lobbying the city to reinstate Bull Creek’s off-leash status after the park is restored. The group had asked PARD to find a replacement off-leash area and to post signage at Bull Creek directing dog owners to the alternative park. Otherwise, Allen said, dog owners may try to use Bull Creek Park even though it’s closed.

 

“Our objective is the same as everyone else’s – to get the park restored,” he said. “We feel this (an alternative off-leash park) is key to that effort.”

 

Chris Herrington, an engineer with the city’s Watershed Protection Department, said that city staff tried to find an alternative. Emma Long Metropolitan Park on Lake Austin was identified, but both the Parks and Recreation and Environmental boards rejected the idea. (Although, the Turkey Creek trail within Emma Long remains an off-leash area.)

 

“We looked at all the parks in northwest Austin and none of them were feasible,” Herrington said, “either from a water quality standpoint or from a parks management standpoint.”

 

So for now, dog owners will have to travel to one of the other 11 off-leash parks around the city, or wait for Bull Creek to reopen and hope that the city reinstates its off-leash status. But, as of tomorrow, Dec. 1, parts of Bull Creek Park are off limits to people and dogs.

 

The closure and planned restoration is the result of a two-year investigation by the city. A team of staffers from the city’s Parks and Recreation, Watershed Protection, Health and Water Utility departments has been studying conditions at Bull Creek Park since 2007. Water quality tests show that E. coli bacteria levels in part of the creek that flows through the park are above levels considered safe for humans. The team concluded that dog feces caused the high levels of bacteria.

 

Erosion is another concern. Natural vegetation along the creek’s western edge in the southern part of the park has disappeared. Topsoil has eroded and compacted due to trampling, leaving a barren creek bank.

 

The $140,000 restoration plan calls for carving out gardens along the creek bank and planting them with native, drought resistant plants, which would hold topsoil and prevent erosion. Narrow pathways between the gardens would still allow access to the creek.

 

Workers employed from American YouthWorks will help the city with the restoration project and maintain the park afterwards.

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