Dogs love McKinley Park’s forested areas and trails.
And that, apparently, is the problem.
Metro Parks Tacoma recently announced that McKinley’s off-leash dog area will close Dec. 31 after eight years. The reason: the East Side park contains “wetlands of local significance” that can’t be adequately protected while dogs are on the loose.
Unrestrained animals — particularly dogs — can disrupt wildlife and endanger the natural environment, said Mary Anderson, Metro Parks natural resources manager. Reports show off-leash animals “discourage nesting birds, chase squirrels (and) uproot plants in marsh areas,” she said.
That’s why the 2014 McKinley Park Stewardship Plan called for the parks system to restrict off-leash animals. The city of Tacoma asked Metro Parks to close the 7-acre dog area by the end of this year.
Metro Parks officials had hoped to have a dog park open at another East Side park, Swan Creek, by the time McKinley closed its. But the creation of a Swan Creek dog park — which unlike McKinley’s will be fully fenced — has taken longer than anticipated. It now appears the Swan Creek dog area will open in 2018.
That leaves nearby Rogers Park, as well as Wapato and Point Defiance parks, as the remaining off-leash areas in the Metro Parks’ system.
McKinley visitors are unhappy about losing a place for their pups to run free, said Danny Patnode, a park volunteer.
“In one aspect, the only people who come down here are dog people,” he said.
Dogs will still be welcome after Dec. 31 — provided they’re leashed. But Tom Chiddler, who was visiting the park earlier this month with his dog, said he wished Metro Parks had given park users a chance to weigh in on the change.
“Nobody called any kind of public board meeting,” he said. “It’s like it all got decided without the people who actually come here all the time.”
Metro Parks spokesman Michael Thompson said the agency didn’t really have a choice.
It asked Tacoma for an extension to keep the McKinley off-leash area open until Swan Creek was ready, but the answer was no. The city has identified the park as a habitat corridor that requires protection.
Thompson encouraged community members to voice their concerns by contacting Metro Parks by phone or email.
“If people have concerns, we want to hear those,” he said. “If people have requests, we want to hear those, too. People who have questions are always welcome to call.”