The Bend Park & Recreation District takes a conservative approach when it comes to dogs in its parks, for good reasons. With the addition of the dog-free Riley Ranch park, however, it’s time for the district to try something new.

Riley Ranch Nature Preserve, which the park district expects to open in early 2018, is among the district’s biggest pieces of property, at 184 acres. As befits its nature-preserve status, it will remain largely undeveloped, and dogs will not be allowed, leashed or otherwise. Bikes, too, will be banned.

That gives the community’s dog owners eight other city parks in which to exercise their pets off-leash, though the areas generally are too small for long walks or runs with an animal. Just 15 years ago, there were no off-leash parks in the district, so today’s number is a clear improvement.

But it’s not enough, at least for some dog owners. Dog parks are not places suited for a long run with an unleashed animal, and while most trails in the Deschutes National Forest are open to off-leash dogs year-round, the ones most heavily used and closest to Bend require leashes during the summer.

That’s where the park district comes in.

It should try an experiment at Shevlin Park. It should designate the park an off-leash area three days a week, say, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. It should post the information prominently, so those who are troubled by leash-free dogs can avoid the park on those days.

Then, it should set about strictly enforcing the rules about dogs at the park seven days a week. On off-leash days, park stewards should make sure owners have control of their pets, leashed or not. On the other days, those same stewards should ticket every dog owner who lets a pooch run unencumbered.

This newspaper has supported the district’s and city’s leash laws over the years, and we still do. But as community needs change — and with a huge new dog-free park opening soon — the district and we must change, too. It’s time to test a leash-free park big enough for a good long walk or run, and Shevlin is the place to do it.

18609951