VF dogs

Telluride officials have reported an uptick of complaints about dogs on the Valley Floor. They are permitted but only on a leash on the River Trail and on Boomerang Road. More signs are being erected. (Image courtesy of the Town of Telluride)

“If dogs run free, then what must be, must be,” Bob Dylan once sang. And while Dylan’s lyrically deft song speaks to love and open spaces, it does not speak to dogs roaming unfettered on the Valley Floor.

According to Telluride’s project manager, Lance McDonald, in spite of the fact that signs apprising recreationists that their dogs cannot, in fact, run free on the Valley Floor, he reported there has been an uptick in complaints. 

“There’ve been a lot of complaints about dogs on the Valley Floor,” McDonald said. “People are getting cited and it’s a lot of locals.”

Dog owners that reside in Telluride follow a host of regulations surrounding responsible dog ownership, including leash laws in Town Park and between Columbia and Pacific Avenues, licensing pets annually and showing proof of rabies vaccinations, and other measures against dogs running free, being vicious, and for defecation without clean-up. So, presented with over 500 acres of open space at town’s front door, it is tempting to unclick the leash and let Rover for a romp on the Valley Floor. Tempting and illegal.

Open Space Commission member, Nancy Craft explained that while the conservation easement that protects the property from development in perpetuity does not specifically prohibit dogs, the management plan created by the Open Space Commission does. 

“The management plan does not allow dogs on any portion of the Valley Floor,” Craft said. “Any decision we make is based on the land — in this case, protecting wildlife habitat precludes dogs.”

But despite McDonald’s observation that the issuance of citations for loose dogs on the Valley Floor have gone up, Craft said that enforcement is a challenge.

It's an ongoing problem,” she said. “Enforcement is really only possible if a town marshal or open space staff happens to be out there when someone is there with their dog. Like in Keystone Gorge, where dogs are also prohibited because of wildlife migration and habitat concerns, most people, myself included, don't like to confront people and by the time a call is made and an official arrives, the offender might be long gone.”

And a loose dog most likely belongs to someone you know or recognize around town.

“It's frustrating because many of the violators are locals who know the rules and apparently don't think they apply to them,” Craft said.

The effectiveness of preventing dogs on the Valley Floor can be noted in the thriving habitat and the many creatures that can be spotted by the keen-eyed recreationist. But keeping it open to human recreation and preserving habitat is a fine balance, Craft said.  

“The town assumed a huge responsibility for stewardship of the Valley Floor when we acquired it more than 10 years ago now,” she said. “The Open Space Commission is still learning about its marvelous and complex ecosystem of land, water, creatures large and small, and abundant birds and how the land functions as a whole. Although, of course, it's wonderful that everyone has access and can enjoy the Valley Floor on foot, on skis, and on bikes, our greatest challenge is to thoughtfully and carefully balance recreation with preservation and protection.”

So, where can you take your dog on the Valley Floor. The answer is: Only on Boomerang Rd. Dogs are also permitted on the River Trail on Town and USFS land from Mahoney Drive to about a mile west of Boomerang Road. It is clearly marked. But in the spirit of ramping up communication for those unsure of what is and isn't permitted, McDonald said the town will be adding additional visual aids."

“More signs are being erected,” he said.

Editor's note: The story has been edited to clarify where dogs are permitted on the Valley Floor.