By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

The Bend group that wants to see dogs run free during summertime along the Deschutes River Trail turned in its 500-signature petition to the Deschutes National Forest last week.

Val Gerard, leader of the Summer Dogs on the Deschutes River Trail group, said she also talked for 20 minutes with Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District Ranger Kevin Larkin when she turned the petition in on Thursday.

“There were no promises about anything, although he did say I would hear back from him sometime in the next few weeks,” she said, “so I’m looking forward to hearing back from him.”

The group, made up of about a half-dozen dog lovers, collected the signatures on the petition over the past year and a half, mainly from people on the river trail. The petition calls for dogs to be allowed off leash along more miles of the river trail during summer. Gerard said she is hopeful it will at least open a dialogue between the group and the forest, in which they could talk about some options for off-leash dogs.

Under current U.S. Forest Service rules, dogs must be leashed for all but one of the nine miles between the Meadow Camp and Benham East day-use areas between May 15 and Sept. 15. The rest of the year dogs are allowed off leash along all 10 miles. They’re also allowed off leash during the summer when cooling off or swimming in the river along the trail.

The summer restriction is to balance use on the trail, which is also popular for mountain bikers and people walking, hiking or running, Larkin said. In looking over the petition and thinking about the trail rules, he said he must take the many trail users into consideration.

“Can those uses be made compatible or not is a fundamental question,” Larkin said.

The Deschutes National Forest has addressed dog rules for the woods before, including at a 2010 open house in Bend that drew more than 150 people.

Gerard was among those who spoke out at the 2010 open house, saying she wanted to see more places in the forest where dogs could go off leash.

In addition to addressing the Deschutes National Forest, Gerard said she plans to send copies of her signed petition to Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Kent Connaughton, regional forester for Oregon and Washington with the Forest Service.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812; .