Leash laws, poop bags and good etiquette for hiking with dogs in Summit County
It was one of those encounters when I wanted to defend my dog, even though I knew she and I were honestly in the wrong.
On a sublime Sunday in late July, I met up with a few friends to hike the Ptarmigan Peak Trail outside of Silverthorne. My 8-year-old mutt was the only dog in the group, so as usual I let her hike the first section without a leash, and as usual she took a shoulder dive into the first fresh, plump pile of horse poop she came across. That’s what I get for letting her roam free sometimes — the dog just wants to be a dog.
After cursing and mumbling and washing her clean with the extra water bottle I brought (if only to get rid of the stench until home and shampoo,) the rest of the hike was unexpectedly serene. Ptarmigan might be within spitting distance of Interstate 70, but even on bustling summer mornings it tends to be less crowded than Quandary Peak, the Rainbow Lake area, nearby Tenderfoot Trail and other hot spots for dog walkers.
We didn’t encounter another dog the entire day, but I knew the trail is popular with horses, and if two trail-user groups get into more verbal tussles than dog walkers and horse riders, it’s mountain bikers and everyone else. But that’s neither here nor there.
About 3 miles into the hike — still a mile or two before the wilderness area boundary, where dogs are always required to be on leash — my mutt was a few paces ahead of me and my friends. That’s when I heard the voice:
“Can you please control your dog with a leash?”
Around the bend, still hidden behind thick stands of pines and occasional aspens, was an older woman and her horse. She was in front and on foot, leading the horse carefully down a brief, steep section of trail. My dog didn’t bark, didn’t lunge, didn’t even seem too curious, but the minute I heard the tone of her voice I knew she and her horse had encountered bad dogs in the past. For a split second I felt offended — “Why is she already lumping my dog into the ‘bad dog’ category?” — and then put on my responsible dog-owner face.
I whistled, my dog came to my side, and then our entire group stepped off the trail to let the woman and her horse pass by. My animal obediently sat at my feet and her animal continued down along the trail. We all exchanged polite “hellos” and “thank yous,” and went on with our days — but that’s not always the case.
Dog dos and don’ts
Dogs are welcome to join their humans on just about every trail in Summit County. There are a few exceptions, and routes like the paved recpath and wilderness areas often require dogs to be on a leash, but in general Fido can roam free — with caveats.
Rule number one: Always hike with a leash. Even if your dog is a master of voice commands, it’s still courteous to other users. If they see a leash, they know you have a way to restrain your dog. You might trust and know your pup, but that’s not the case with most other hikers, bikers and horse riders you’ll encounter.
“Let your dog run, enjoy the forest, enjoy the smells, enjoy the exercise, but when you encounter people, you call the dog to your side, leash it — or heel it — and let the people go by,” said Ken Waugh, recreation ranger with the Dillon Ranger District that oversees every U.S. Forest Service trail in the county. “If everyone did that, everyone would be happy.”
Rule number two: Pick up poop, or at least push it off the trail. Along with unleashed, untamed dogs, Waugh said most conflicts between dog walkers and everyone else involves poop. The best solution is to bring at least one or two bags with you, and then carry them with you to a trash can or, if you’re deep in the wilderness on an out-and-back trail, leave it in a place you’ll remember to pick up on your way back through.
What if you don’t have a bag? You won’t get a ticket, Waugh said, but only if you show a little courtesy to other users and sweep it off the trail.
“A lot of people are concerned about the ecology and the impacts it (dog poop) will have on the ecosystem, but the big issue is to get it off the trail,” Waugh said. “We have plenty of sticks in the forest, so if you want to reduce the user conflict, just keep the poop off the trail.”
Serious conflicts are rare, but Waugh said those two items — picking up poop and controlling your dog — can solve the vast majority of problems. As Summit’s population continues to spike, he hopes dog walkers and everyone else can live in peace. The alternative isn’t pretty.
“The other option is to be like National Parks,” said Waugh, referring to popular destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park north of Summit. “They don’t allow dogs on trails there, even if they’re on leash, and that’s unfortunate that our entire national park system with few exceptions doesn’t allow dogs on trails.”
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.