County to allow unleashed dogs in designated areas of parks

Staff writer

Fido will be able to run a little more freely soon, thanks to a county code amendment approved by supervisors that will allow unleashed dogs in designated park areas starting in May.

The amendment stipulates that dogs can be off their leash only in specific areas of the parks. County staff selected four locations to test the idea.

The off-leash areas will be marked with split-rail fence sections in the corners and halfway down each side. They aren’t totally fenced in. No staff will be assigned to the areas, though they will be patrolled by staff, said Parks and Recreation Director John Carnifax.

“I think it’s time for us to look at some options,” Carnifax said, noting the idea has caught on nationally and there’s a local demand for such an amenity. “I think it’s worth us trying.”

If the new rule becomes problematic, sites can be removed from the approved list as needed, he said.

Chickahominy Riverfront Park, Jamestown Beach Event Park, Upper County Park and Veterans Park are planned to have off-leash areas, according to county staff’s plan.

Though the supervisors voted unanimously to approve the idea Tuesday, there were some concerns about creating four spaces for off-leash dogs all at once, as per the county staff’s plan. Supervisors directed Carnifax to open the off-leash areas in a staggered manner. The exact nature of the phased approach wasn’t determined at the meeting.

“I would rather see two this year,” Supervisor Ruth Larson said, suggesting the county introduce the idea slowly to keep a tighter focus on the program.

Other supervisors echoed Larson’s interest in a slow approach to mitigate possible problems. Supervisor Jim Icenhour wondered whether it would be possible to convert at least one of the spaces into a totally fenced-in area.

Supervisor Michael Hipple was supportive of the idea as presented by staff.

“We’re trying to contain it to an area and see how it works,” Hipple said.

Off-leash areas are expected to be operational starting in May and will be made available to park visitors at no extra cost during regular park hours. The trial period will continue until October.

Carnifax noted that while it is possible something could go wrong, county parks haven’t had issues with unruly dogs in his experience. Based on staff research, localities that have rolled out off-leash areas haven’t had problems.

Proposed regulatory signage that would be located at each site and was presented to the board when it took its vote. The amendment limits dog owners to no more than two dogs per visit and requires them to have a leash with them.

The regulatory signage doesn’t prohibit specific breeds of dog, but dogs must be at least 4 months old and cannot be “in heat, vicious or aggressive.” Dogs must also be up-to-date on vaccinations.

No one spoke at the public hearing that preceded the vote.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007,, @jajacobs_

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