Bend group calls for more off-leash miles along Deschutes River

Petition with 500 signatures heading to Deschutes National Forest

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

A Bend group wanting to see dogs roam off-leash in the summertime along more miles of the Deschutes River Trail circulated a petition and is ready to pass it to the Deschutes National Forest.

The group, made up of a half dozen dog lovers, calls itself Summer Dogs on the Deschutes River Trail, and has collected more than 500 signatures, said leader Val Gerard of Bend. The signatures were collected over the past year and a half, primarily from people on the river trail. Gerard plans to give the petition to forest officials later this month.

The river trail is a great place to walk a dog in the summer because of its proximity to town and to water, Gerard said. But current U.S. Forest Service rules require dogs be on leash for all but one of the nine miles between Meadow Camp and Benham East day use areas from May 15 to Sept. 15. Gerard and the group want to see at least a couple more miles opened to off-leash dogs during summer.

“It is not very fun walking your dog on leash all summer,” Gerard said.

Forest officials have heard Gerard’s concerns and welcome the petition but don’t have any plans to change dog-leash rules along the Deschutes River Trail, said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest.

“We have had lots of discussions with her,” Nelson-Dean said.

The Deschutes National Forest held an open house about dog rules in 2010, which drew about 150 people. Gerard was there and said she’d like rule changes to allow dogs off leash in more places.

While the nine-mile stretch of the Deschutes River Trail may require dogs to be on leash during summer, Nelson-Dean said there are plenty of other places people can go in the forest to let their dogs loose. The forest’s website reports 95 percent — a total of 1,200 miles — of its trails allow dogs to be off leash during the summer.

Dogs are also allowed off leash along the Deschutes River Trail if they are swimming or cooling off in the river. The Deschutes National Forest has leash rules for some trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness, as well. Wintertime rules keep dogs off ski trails north of the Cascades Lakes Highway but allow them on ski trails south of the highway. Dogs aren’t allowed in the Bend watershed in the forest at any time during the year.

The forest has had “pretty good success and acceptance,” of the current rules for dogs, said Kevin Larkin, district ranger for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District.

“At certain times of year it may not be appropriate to have a bunch of dogs running off leash,” Larkin said.

Gerard and her group are currently focused on the Deschutes River Trail and opening it up to dogs off leash during summer. She said about half the people who use the trail in the summer have a dog with them, and it would make for better outings if the dogs could go off leash. Some people already let their dogs off leash where they’re not supposed to along the trail.

Changing the rules, Gerard contends, would stop the rule-breakers and would prevent people with on-leash dogs from being hassled by off-leash dogs.

Gerard used to be a board member for DogPAC, a nonprofit that advocates for off-leash dog areas. While the group wasn’t involved with the petition, it does support the effort, said Kreg Lindberg, DogPAC board chairman.

“We definitely support the idea of what she is trying to do,” he said.

Like Gerard, he said there should be more off-leash trails close to town and water in the forest. While the forest does have many miles of trail available for off-leash dogs, many are far from Bend and not feasible for someone looking for a dog walk.

“A lot of the trails that they say are solutions really are not,” Lindberg said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812; .