On Monday, Sophie and I said goodbye to our favorite dog park which is closing for three years. Elk Meadows, located in Evergreen, CO with a few hundred acres of trails for dogs to scamper on locked its gates on April 4. In an effort to be extra-prepared, they set some heavy duty locks on the fences a day early. I tried very hard to not call the people in charge “Jerk wads.” I failed. At least I didn’t drop an F-bomb or say something really rude. Elk Meadows has a way of bringing out the civilized human in me.
I am certain that my words do not do this place justice. It’s a forty-five minute drive from home, so it’s a little bit of an effort to get there, requiring some planning on our parts. Once you are there parking can be a little tricky and not surprisingly the weekends will give you overflowing lots.
Once inside it becomes the Magic Forest. Maybe that’s a bit much. No, actually upon reflection I think it’s where the Elves of Rivendell moved after Sauron was defeated.
It’s also about twenty degrees cooler than Denver, making it already an ideal location in the summer. You get nice paths and tree cover, then an open meadow before going to the non-fenced area.
It’s also extremely steep. The dogs love it. The people…well, you need to be in very good shape to walk up and down these hills. And in all honesty, it is not the easiest place to clean up dog poop. Unfortunately I don’t think that the convenience issue has much to do with their decisions to not scoop, which is why the park is closing. The excess dog waste has led to soil and plant erosion and despite being warned, enough people continued their lazy ways.
I first took Sophie there at the urging of my friend Molly who told me about this spot. The walk proved arduous but ultimately worth it for the chance to get out of the blazing Denver sun. Sophie loved the creek the most, always jumping in and not just wading, but sitting down and rolling in it. Others walking their dogs nearby would laugh, seeing this dog lie down in the water and wagging her tail in utter joy. Once she felt sufficiently drenched, we would start on the post-creek trails.
These trails have been well-maintained with lots of rocks, switchbacks, and some very steep drop offs. The tree-canopy was always welcome, and the view of endless aspens and pine trees with hawks flying in the distance offered a feeling of tranquility. Sophie would meet other dogs on the trails, sometimes playfully mingling with them. Then we’d always move on. She might hop up onto a large rock to get a better view, or scamper under a bush to investigate a noise, or try to climb a tree where vermin hid out. She always returned to me and the path; the trail provided direction and it always propelled us forward. Just keep walking.
When my ex and I split almost two years ago, I found myself at Elk Meadows nearly every day for a few weeks. I could not sit at home. I had to hike. Sophie has always been very attuned to my emotional state, so hiking without her didn’t seem right. Elk Meadows provided exactly the right environment for me when my life imploded. It was quiet. It was strenuous. It was beautiful. Just keep walking.
When Rufus showed up last year we did a few walks there. Once out of the fenced area I always put him on leash, until July 4. We looped off-leash at least three times that day, and he was wonderful despite the crowds. He stayed near Sophie and showed he could be well-behaved. Best of all, I had a completely exhausted puppy at the end.
And then September arrived. During a visit only two months later, Rufus struggled to conduct himself appropriately and stay near either me or Sophie, and of course had to turn into Mr. Annoying. He encircled other dogs and attempted to cajole them into playing. I apologized to others and struggled to regain control of him. Eventually I grabbed his collar and put him back on leash which, of course, he hated. Sophie romped with an adorable Rhodesian Ridgeback while Rufus whimpered, unable to decipher why his sister got to have all the fun. But we stayed on the path and marched on.
If the park actually does re-open in three years, Rufus will be four years old and a different dog. Hopefully he’ll be able to act more sociably. In three years Sophie will also be a different dog, and I don’t know if her nine-year-old self will be able to handle the steep climbs. She already struggles with some joint pain and does not have a great range of motion in her front right leg due to a slight deformity. Despite having had dogs all throughout my childhood, the rapidity with which dogs age has never ceased to surprise or sadden me. In that light, I find the selfish actions of the non poop-scoopers and subsequent park closure to be particularly cruel.
There are other places we can go, of course. There are the local city dog parks and there are some lovely state parks with enclosed dog areas. We are spoiled for choice out here. But Elk Meadows has been special for its challenges – you can only access its peace and beauty if you are willing to take on the difficulty. Traverse the rocks and pitch and mud and you will find what you were looking for. Keep doing it.
Beware of others crapping on your path. They can destroy the best things in life. Like every obstacle you need to figure out a way around it: it may not be your mess to clean up, but it can become your problem soon enough. Deal with it, and just keep moving forward.