Dogs in Island Center Forest: Should rules be changed?

Bill and Lynn Shepherd, who walk their dogs in Island Center Forest often, say dog owners should be responsible for their pets, but shouln’t have to keep them on leashes. The Friends of Island Center Forest are searching for a solution to allow that. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Bill and Lynn Shepherd, who walk their dogs in Island Center Forest often, say dog owners should be responsible for their pets, but shouln’t have to keep them on leashes. The Friends of Island Center Forest are searching for a solution to allow that.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

Regulations at Island Center Forest may soon change, as the Friends of Island Center Forest work with the King County to address what some see as a growing concern at the park: unleashed dogs.

The Friends of Island Center Forest, an advisory group to the county that has been instrumental in making improvements at the 360-acre park, began discussing rules surrounding dogs at the park several months ago, after some raised concerns about off-leash dogs there.

Stephen Holtz, a member of the friends group and one of the county’s volunteer ambassadors to the park, said most who walk their dogs at the park do so off-leash, and while the dogs rarely cause problems, there have been incidents.

“A very small minority of dogs that are running in the park seem to be a problem,” he said. “They’ve accosted people on horses, as 

well as people with other dogs, as well as people just walking.”

Unleashed dogs can be especially worrisome when horses are present at the park, Holtz said. One time, he said, he was riding his own horse through Island Center Forest when two unleashed dogs approached him aggressively; their owner was too far behind on the trail to do anything. Holtz said he’d heard of half a dozen similar incidents, noting that when frightened, horses could buck off riders or kick dogs or people.

“Everyone is happily breaking the rules and everybody’s happily not enforcing the rules, except for certain instances, and then people aren’t happy,” he said.

Though park rules dictate that all dogs at Island Center Forest are to be leashed, Holtz said both the county and the Friends understand that dog walkers are the park’s largest user group, and they want to allow responsible dog owners the ability to walk their dogs unleashed there.

“No off-leash dogs isn’t a good solution,” he said. “Everybody is putting their heads together to come up with a solution.”

At last month’s Friends’ meeting, several concerned dog walkers showed up to discuss changes at the park. Scott Snyder, a King County resource coordinator who facilitates the Friends meetings, said those in attendance brainstormed several possible ways to allow off-leash dog walking at the Island Center Forest, with some restrictions. 

For example, Snyder said, a certain portion of the park could be designated for off-leash dogs, or off-leash walking could be allowed during certain times of the day. It was even suggested that dog owners could earn the right to have their dog unleashed by passing a test.

“There are a variety of different ways of approaching it,” Snyder said. “We’re trying to figure out through public comment what looks like it would work.”

Lou Fezio, who has walked his dogs at Island Center Forest for two decades and attended the recent meeting, said he has very rarely seen unleashed dogs cause problems at the park but nonetheless believes dog owners should cooperate with the county.

“l think there’s still quite a bit of Wild West mentality around the park by a lot of people, dog owners included. … We have to realize that this is now a King County park, and we have to play by their rules,” he said.

Dog walkers will meet next week to continue the discussion and brainstorming, and will likely report their ideas back to the Friends’ group.

Fezio said one idea that seemed promising at last month’s meeting was the concept of dog walkers policing themselves by talking with owners of problem dogs and possibly reporting them to the county. 

Bill and Lynn Shepherd, who were walking their two airedale terriers at Island Center Forest one sunny afternoon, also liked the idea of self-policing. They said asking everyone to be responsible for their dogs seemed like a reasonable expectation, but they hoped to continue walking their dogs off-leash at the park.

“We shouldn’t have the same rules in this rural area that are imposed in urban areas,” Bill Shepherd said. 

David Kimmett, a county natural resources program manager who manages Island Center Forest, said the county would consider changing rules about dogs in Island Center Forest if the Friends came up with a recommendation.

The Friends of Island Center Forest, Kimmett noted, is one of only a few friends groups in the King County park system, and it happens to be addressing off-leash dog walking at the same time county officials have begun the same discussion on a county level, as there are other parks in the region that could benefit from an off-leash dog area.

“Island Center Forest is one of our more progressive sites as far as the kinds of things we’re doing out there. … Island Center Forest is right ahead of the curve on a lot of things,” he said.


Dog owners who walk at Island Center Forest will meet to discuss rule changes there at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the Land Trust Building.

*NOTE: An incorrect date was printed in the Beachcomber. The meeting will take place on Monday, May 16. 



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