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'No dogs allowed' option being considered for York Region forest trail
July 2, 2021

You can have your say about possible off-leash and dog-free areas on the survey that is open to July 9

Newmarket resident Martha Hogan said she walks her dogs at the York Regional Forest every day.

Hogan hoped that York's pandemic rules indicating dogs must be on-leash at all times might lift, allowing people to walk dogs off-leash if under control. She said it gives her dogs a good experience and she has no worries about them harming anyone. 

“My dogs haven’t done that, and so I’m not worried about it,” she said. “If you got a dog like that, it should be on leash.”

But the days of off-leash walks throughout York Regional Forest are coming to an end, as the municipality plans to make its pandemic rules permanent -- with some possible exception areas.

The municipality is surveying people until July 9 about proposed options for the future of dogs at the park. But the plan to keep dogs on leash in most areas is intended to go ahead.

Beacon Environmental planning ecologist Margot Ursic said the change is in response to concerns about negative interactions with dogs, particularly off-leash. She said even before the pandemic, the region recognized the rule needed review, noting that surrounding municipalities already limit dogs to on-leash except in designated areas.

“This rule was no longer working well for a growing number, and the growing diversity, of visitors,” Ursic said during a June 29 online information session. “It is hoped, going forward, the new rule and whatever options are selected will help limit issues and conflicts by ensuring that there are enough options for everyone to enjoy the forest.”

The region is offering some ideas for its 22 forest tracts. It is proposing that one to three of them might be off-leash, one to three of them could prohibit dogs entirely, and there could be one or two new fenced-in off-leash dog areas. The region is maintaining the off-leash fenced area at the Bendor and Graves Tract.

Citizens questioned the new rules at the information session. Gus Malezis said he has had only one bad situation with an out-of-control dog in 10 years using the forest.

“Isn’t it better to address that issue, instead of over regulating and impact everyone else who observes safe use of the first?” Malezis said.

York's direction follows a previous survey with approximately 2,000 respondents. About 41 per cent of people had negative experiences with dogs at York Regional Forest, compared to 30 per cent neutral and 28 per cent positive.

Ursic said even if negative experiences are from a minority of people, the region has to deal with it.

“The challenge is some of the incidents that have occurred, they’re very severe,” Ursic said. “That is something that needs to be addressed."

Some respondents expressed concern about the prospect of tracts outright banning dogs. Karen Strong said she lives along the forest and walks dogs there regularly.

“It is ridiculous to think the forest behind us could be banned,” Strong said. “This is not acceptable to us."

York natural heritage and forestry manager James Lane said residents along a forest tract would be considered if any become dog-free.

“I don’t think our intent is ever to exclude all those residents who live close by,” Lane said.

Ursic said dog-free parks could also aid educational programming by the region and its partners. 

The survey is open until July 9 on the York Region website. Another online information session will also be held July 5 at 7 p.m. After that, staff will prepare a survey report before eventually making recommendations to regional council for implementation next spring.