COVID-19: Good, Bad Ways You're Handling Closed Denver Dog Parks

COVID-19: Good, Bad Ways You're Handling Closed Denver Dog Parks
Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash
To address the COVID-19 outbreak, Denver is maintaining a stay-at-home order recently extended to April 30, four days longer than the mandate for Colorado as a whole, and has instituted a slew of related safety measures, including the closure of dog parks in the city.

Residents cooped up with high-energy canines who desperately need to get out aren't always dealing with this scenario in the best ways. But fortunately, there are other options.

Yes, Denver parks remain accessible in the wake of the order. But as noted by Alton Dillard, a media-relations spokesperson with Denver's Joint Information Center, amenities within the parks are another story.

Corresponding via email, Dillard passes along the following excerpts from the order:
Pursuant to section 24-24 of the Denver Revised Municipal Code, park amenities including but not limited to: playgrounds, golf courses, skate parks, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic areas, dog parks and similar spaces conducive to public gathering are currently closed due to the risk of spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). To engage in outdoor activity, parks remain open for walking, hiking, biking, running and similar activities, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements (6+ feet). Park Rangers will be out educating park visitors and enforcing this order.
More recently, at the encouragement of advocates such as the folks at Denver Streets Partnership, Denver closed roads within 31 parks in order to provide more room for dog walkers, as well as pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and the like, and banished traffic from several other stretches — among them East 11th Avenue from Lincoln Street to Humboldt Street, Byron Place from Zenobia Street to Stuart Street, and East 16th Avenue from Lincoln Street to the City Park Esplanade.

But even opening up these new areas hasn't eliminated the problem of overcrowding at places such as Cheesman Park, where six-foot social distancing this past weekend was difficult at times. Moreover, the necessity of keeping dogs on leashes in such settings, or in neighborhoods where many people are strolling, severely limits the amount of exercise they're getting.

Masked dog walkers in Cheesman Park on April 4. - PHOTO BY LAUREN ANTONOFF
Masked dog walkers in Cheesman Park on April 4.
Photo by Lauren Antonoff
As a result, some locals are taking advantage of school shutterings throughout Denver for at least the remainder of the current academic year; the other day, a closed schoolyard at the Denver Center for International Studies became a pooch playground.

Those with cars have a few more choices. Sniffspot, an app that describes itself as Airbnb for dogs, has dozens of small-fee listings by local homeowners who offer yards or properties for free-run use. And while, like Denver, most municipalities have closed their dog parks, Westminster's remain open. That city boasts three of the best dog parks in this part of the state, including Westminster Hills, a massive site that stretches over 420 acres.

Still, Westminster spokesperson Lauren Gladu reveals that it's not business as usual at the parks. "Staff is monitoring the situation on a regular basis to ensure proper social distancing guidelines are followed," she reports in an email. "We created and placed 'safety tips' signage at each dog park, as well as on trailheads, to encourage people to be safe while enjoying these amenities."

At Westminster Hills this past Saturday, April 4, the park was so popular that one visitor avoided it during prime time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; at 3 p.m., though, the parking lots were still nearly full. He estimates that around 100 people and their dogs were present. But because the park is so huge, and since its paths are typically eight to ten feet wide, social distancing was possible — a good thing, because face masks were definitely not common apparel.

For more alternatives, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is encouraging folks to try out its COTREX app (see our June 2019 post about the state's top easy hiking trails) to find dog-friendly trails near them. Many of the routes require dogs to be leashed, and CPW has published trail safety guidelines specifically with COVID-19 in mind. But at least they offer different scenery than walking through your neighborhood again — or crossing yellow caution tape.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts