Protecting the endangered Karner blue butterfly’s habitat while maintaining the traditional spot where pet owners have allowed their dogs to run unleashed will require construction of a $65,000 fenced-in area at Saratoga Spa State Park.
On Tuesday, the city agreed to pay half the cost.
Park Manager Michael Greenslade said the existing arrangement between the park and dog owners using the fields behind the Crescent Avenue parking area has affected the Karner habitat. Also, he said, dogs being off leashes in the park isn’t in conformance to state Parks and Recreation Law and creates the danger of an accident on Route 9 nearby.
Federally protected since 1992, the Karner blue’s life cycle depends on the wild blue lupine flower. Disturbances to this plant life can ultimately affect the health of the species.
“Many things have a potential to impact the rare butterfly populations,” Greenslade stated. “Most of these things, like cold spring rains or lack of snow cover, are uncontrollable. However, restricting access to their habitat by off-leash dogs, which can trample butterflies and the plants they rely on, is something we can have some control over.”
In a letter sent to members of the City Council, Greenslade said “a fenced-off leash area would be a good compromise to our shared goals of providing exceptional recreational opportunities while fulfilling our federally endangered species protection obligations.”
The cost of the fence for the 1.7-acre dog park on Crescent Avenue will be split evenly, with the city obligated to pay no more than $33,000 if the project is in excess of initial estimates. A group dubbed Friends of the Dog Park will also contribute nearly $2,000 it raised during an event last year toward furnishing the new area with amenities.
Members of the council unanimously approved their end of the money during their meeting Tuesday. The funding was pulled from the city’s reserve recreation trust fund.
The new fenced-in park will create a half-acre rectangular space immediately east of the parking area dedicated for small dogs. A much larger 1.2-acre rectangular area is planned for larger dogs adjacent to the rectangle.
The fence will be 5 feet high around the entire park. The area will have a double-gate entry to ensure dogs won’t slip out of the designated area as their owners are letting them off a leash.
Plans call for sidewalks leading to the parking area. A large field now used by dog owners along Route 9 will be designated as a seasonal meadow for butterfly habitat.
Park officials are trying to protect both the Karner blues and the frosted elfin butterflies — a threatened species with a habitat adjacent to the site. Both species are being affected by the unleashed dogs, Greenslade said.
The area was never designated a dog park. Rather it is where dog owners were traditionally directed to prevent problems with unleashed canines in the main park on the other side of Route 9.
Greenslade said the casual use of the site as a dog park was tolerated for years, but became increasingly at odds with the park’s operation. When a parking area was built by the state Department of Transportation in 2000, use of the “impromptu dog park” increased, along with the impacts caused by unleashed pets.
“This is basically the situation that has persisted to this day,” he stated. “However, this situation is less than ideal.”
Other habitats for the Karner blue restrict dogs to leashes for similar reasons. Margo Bloom Olson, executive director at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park, said dogs must be leashed at all times and people are asked to stay on designated trails.
“Here, to avoid conflicts, people are asked to stay on the trails and not walk into the habitat,” she said. “They are asked to keep dogs on the leash at all times for all kinds of safety reasons.”