Denver metro’s largest off-leash dog park gets green light in Westminster

Westminster’s claim as home to the metro area’s largest off-leash dog park — 440 acres of prairie nudged against the edge of the Rocky Mountain foothills where dogs can blaze a trail untethered — has gotten a big boost.

City elected officials gave initial approval Monday, by a vote of 5-2, to an ordinance designed to establish the Westminster Hills Open Space Dog Off-Leash and Natural Area, a designation that officially provides a generous slice of land upon which canines can continue to run, frolic and play — loose and fancy-free.

A second vote to finalize the new designation, which is expected to cost approximately $1.3 million to activate in 2025, is scheduled for later this month. A chunk of that money will fund full-time positions in Westminster’s open space department to manage the newly designated property, including open space stewards and a crew leader.

Specific details about trail alignments, land restoration and recreational management of the property will come later. The off-leash dog park has informally existed for more than 20 years at the site, but Monday’s vote makes it official.

“This is a good plan,” Councilman Obi Ezeadi said in support. “It’s what a lot of people wanted.”

Monday’s action may or may not quell what has been a simmering months-long dispute between thousands of dog lovers — some of whom travel from afar to use the open space property at the northwest corner of Simms Street and West 100th Avenue — and residents worried that unfettered dogs threaten the natural landscape, including native shortgrass prairie and burrowing owl habitat.

“Shortgrass prairie and off-leash dogs cannot mutually coexist,” Melissa Koss, who has lived in the nearby Countryside neighborhood for the better part of a decade, said before Monday’s meeting. “One need only look at surrounding municipalities to see what happens to land used by off-leash dogs: native plants are damaged, native animals are displaced, soil is degraded, and invasive species run rampant.”

But pooch proponents turned out in force at the meeting, talking up the park’s importance as an amenity in the city for more than two decades. Rachel Alvidrez, a nurse, said Westminster’s leaders should acknowledge the mental health benefits to people being able to see their four-legged companions run free.

“This dog park is really a cherished piece of this community,” she said.

The city put together a community advisory committee in the spring to craft options for the City Council to consider regarding the Westminster Hills Open Space property. The committee suggested four different off-leash dog park sizes — from leaving it at its current expanse to reducing it to a mere 33 acres.

Cindy Staudt, a spokeswoman for the pro-canine advocacy group Westy Dog Park Guardians, said she was happy that the largest size dog park had landed on the council’s dais Monday night as the leading option, but she worries about its lasting power.

“The proposed changes to the Westminster Municipal Code still empower the city manager to unilaterally change the use of the park,” she said. “We’re proposing that be modified to require any future use change be decided by City Council, not the city manager.”

Westminster’s city attorney, David Frankel, disagreed with that assessment, saying he read the ordinance as keeping the decision-making power over the property’s status in council’s hands.

Westminster has amassed just more than 3,800 acres of open space over the last few decades. Nearly a quarter of that is encompassed in Westminster Hills, which sits just north of Standley Lake and east of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

“At over 1,000 acres, this is one of the largest stretches of shortgrass prairie publicly protected on the Front Range,” the city wrote in a memo for Monday night’s meeting. “(Westminster Hills) was established through a series of land acquisitions with the primary goal of permanent land preservation and conservation.”

Will LeBoeuf, his daughter Charlotte, their dog Beau Gregory, Jeff Woodard, right, and his dog Allie walk along the trails at the Westminster Hills Open Area Dog Park on July 8, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Will LeBoeuf, his daughter Charlotte, their dog Beau Gregory, Jeff Woodard, right, and his dog Allie walk along the trails at the Westminster Hills Open Area Dog Park on July 8, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

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