GGNRA Releases Final Dog Plan ... And Dog Lovers Are Not Happy

Beachgoers play fetch with dogs at Crissy Field in San Francisco on May 13, 2014.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After a decade and a half of contentious debate, the issue of where dogs can and cannot be in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is about to be put to rest. But that doesn't mean that everyone is happy about it.

The GGNRA released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on Thursday, which outlined its preferred solution to the dog question.

That solution designates around one-third of trails under GGNRA management in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties as dog-friendly and sets aside off-leash dog areas at Rodeo Beach, Crissy Field, Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and Rancho Corral de Tierra.

"Our plan responsibly ensures that we are a park for everybody," said GGNRA spokesman Nathan Sargent at a news conference Thursday morning. "Dog walking will continue at GGNRA, off-leash recreation will continue and dog-free areas will be defined as well in the park."

This plan is an updated version of the proposed rules the GGNRA put out in February of this year. That proposal was not popular among groups looking to expand park and trail access to dogs, and the GGNRA received more than 4,100 public comments in the three months following the announcement.

These two maps show the changes made to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Dog Management Plan between February and December 2016.
These two maps show the changes made to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Dog Management Plan between February and December 2016. (Via National Park Service)

Sargent says these comments informed multiple changes to the February proposal, including the new off-leash area at Rancho Corral de Tierra and expansion of both off-leash and dog-free zones at San Francisco's Crissy Field. He says the goal was to create a plan that strikes a balance between visitors who want to unleash their dogs and those who want a dog-free park experience.

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But dog advocates don't see it quite the same way.

"This is in no way a compromise," said Christine Corwin, president of the Coastside Dog Owners Group of San Mateo County. She said the 3-acre off-leash zone added in Rancho Corral de Tierra, the only off-leash area in San Mateo County, is inconvenient for most people.

One of the most hotly contested spaces is Crissy Field. The entire field is currently open to dogs on or off their leashes. The new plan would slice up the field 40 percent off-leash, 43 percent on-leash and 17 percent dog-free.

"There is no need for these restrictions," said Martha Walters, co-founder and chair of the Crissy Field Dog Group. She said she's worried the new rules could lead to more user conflict as people with dogs are forced into smaller areas of the park.

"It's a loss of access for a lot of people," said Laura Pandapas, a board member of the Marin County Dog Owners Group. She said the loss of two-thirds of trails in Marin County that were previously open to dogs could make them less attractive for people, like women running or hiking alone who feel more comfortable with a dog. She was also disappointed that the plan doesn't include more of the recommendations outlined by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman earlier this fall in a letter to the GGNRA.

But not everyone is upset about the new plan.

"It's a smart plan," said Neal Desai, Pacific Region field director with the National Parks Conservation Association. He said it provides certainty to what kind of environment visitors can expect and takes into account concerns about nature and wildlife conservation.

"Americans expect our national parks to protect the wildlife that's within them," he said. "So the goal is can we accommodate dogs in a way that allows for a balance, and I think that's what this plan is striving to do."

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Sargent says a final ruling on the plan will be issued by the National Park Service early next year.

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