The owner of one of Anchorage’s most popular outdoor recreation areas is telling trail users to leash their pets — or risk getting a $130 ticket.
Officials with the Bureau of Land Management say the agency has received increasing complaints about unleashed pets as visitor numbers have soared at the 730-acre Campbell Tract Special Recreation Management Area in the Abbott Loop area.
They said it’s always been against regulations to allow pets to roam free in the wooded, trail-threaded area, accessible primarily off Elmore Road near East 68th Avenue, and also off Campbell Airstrip Road.
But the rule is often ignored, BLM officials said.
“Something we’ve observed is it was not being taken seriously,” said Scott Claggett, a spokesperson with the Bureau of Land Management. ”To that end, we’ve installed new signs to make it more visible. We’re not trying to blindside people. We’re trying to make people aware that there are consequences to not following posted rules.”
The agency noted the rules in a Facebook post this week, pointing out that Campbell Tract “is NOT an off-leash dog park,” while other off-leash dog parks do exist in Anchorage.
The post noted that a violation could lead to a citation. It said that e-collars can be used instead of leashes.
“Dogs and domesticated animals are required to be on leash at all times while recreating on Campbell Tract,” the agency said. “This is for your safety, other visitors’ safety, wildlife safety, and for the safety of your pet(s).”
“BLM Law Enforcement Rangers are enforcing this citable offense. Please leash your pet,” the post said.
Visitorship has “exploded” at the tract, Claggett said. It saw more than 500,000 visitors last year.
Like other outdoor areas nationally, more people began getting outside there during the pandemic, he said.
The leashless dogs raise safety concerns that people and animals might be hurt by a lunging or angry dog, Claggett said, and the agency wants to make sure every visitor can have a good experience.
“It only takes one dog off-leash to be an issue, even while dozens of others dogs are on-leash,” he said.
The e-collar use is in line with the adjacent 4,000-acre Far North Bicentennial Park area that belongs to the Municipality of Anchorage and is home to Hilltop Ski Area, BLM said in its Facebook post.
On Friday afternoon at the busy Smokejumper Trailhead off Elmore Road, some visitors came and went from the woods with leashed dogs.
But many others were letting their pets roam free, apparently unaware of the agency’s new approach.
Some users said they’d prefer to let their dogs runs without leashes, at least a bit.
Luba Berki walked out of the trailhead with a blue leash tied around her waist. Her “village special” husky mix ran unleashed at her side.
Berki said she hadn’t noticed the new sign among all the other signs at the trailhead.
She said she understands the regulation in summer when bears are out and moose are calving. But in winter, it seems that owners should be able to temporarily unleash pets like she was does with Buffy, putting the animal back on a leash when people approach, she said.
Curtis Racker, a BLM law enforcement ranger, arrived soon afterward.
He said he hasn’t issued tickets for unleashed dogs in the past, and he has numerous areas to enforce, including illegal fires and tree-cutting.
But he said he’ll issue warnings to people with leashless pets and will now write a citation to them if one’s needed.
“I’m not here to ruin people’s experiences,” he said. “I know some people don’t like it. But we want to keep it enjoyable for everybody.”
Ruth Van Hout, who was about to hit the trails snow biking with friends, had her Australian shepherd on a leash. Two moose near the trailhead had just walked off the trail.
She prefers to let K2 run on his own at times, she said. “It’s going to be challenging, because dogs get their stimulation from being free,” she said of the leash law.
But she understands the reason behind it. Other dogs can be aggressive with K2, since he’s docile, she said.
Still, always keeping her dog on a leash while bike riding won’t be easy, she said.
“I think that e-collars are going to be the best route to go” in the future, she said.