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1:17 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

Prescott struggles with dog waste

Courier/Les Stukenberg
Mike Wargo throws a ball for his two dogs Var and Shadow at Willow Lake Park in Prescott. Shortly after, a City of Prescott Park Ranger informed Wargo he had to put his dogs on a leash. As Wargo prepared to leave, he said he always has a shovel handy to pick up after any of his dogs while at a park.

Courier/Les Stukenberg Mike Wargo throws a ball for his two dogs Var and Shadow at Willow Lake Park in Prescott. Shortly after, a City of Prescott Park Ranger informed Wargo he had to put his dogs on a leash. As Wargo prepared to leave, he said he always has a shovel handy to pick up after any of his dogs while at a park.

PRESCOTT ­ Running through the lush green grass on Prescott's ball fields comes with its own set of risks these days.

Not only must athletes keep their eyes on the game, but they also need to keep a close watch on the ground if they want to avoid a messy incident.

It seems that man's best friend is not always an ally of the soccer and softball players who frequent local playing fields. With the approach of the spring sports season, city officials said they are getting more and more complaints from coaches and players about the ever-increasing amount of dog waste in local parks.

"All of our turf areas are having problems with the amount of dog waste," said Eric Smith, parks and trails superintendent for the city. "We receive a lot of complaints from soccer teams."

While parks all over town have been experiencing an increase in the problem, Smith said, "the grass areas are the worst ­ Kuebler Field at Pioneer Park, Willow Creek Park, Roughrider Park and Heritage Park."

Smith and Diana Fister, superintendent of lake parks, noted that the city has tried to take a proactive approach to the problem by installing warning signs and dispensers for waste bags throughout its park system.

While they say the move has been effective to some degree, it has come nowhere close to solving the problem.

"We go through a lot of bags," Fister said, adding that many people are conscientious about picking up after their dogs.

Smith agreed: "Some people are using (the bags) ­ just not everyone."

For the children who run and roll in the grass at local parks, Fister said, "it's a hygiene issue, a health issue." In addition, the turf also suffers. "It's not good for the grass; it's not fertilizer," she said. At the heart of the issue is the fact that many people like to let their dogs run free when they get to local parks and trails.

"We know that athletic dogs need to exercise," Smith said. "But that's why we have the dog park." The city operates the Willow Creek Park Dog Park in northeast Prescott. That is the only public park area in town where it is legal to have a dog off of a leash, Fister said.

The situation has become so serious at local ball fields that Smith said he often sends seasonal park workers to shovel up dog waste before the Prescott High School girls' softball team plays at Pioneer Park.

"I would rather have those staff people doing other things," he said.

Fister added: "We don't have the staff to deal with it adequately."

Along with the signs and bag dispensers, the city is also beefing up enforcement. The city's park ranger now has the authority to write citations for people who fail to pick up after their animals or those who have their dogs off of the leash. Such offenses could come with a $50 fine.

Even so, Smith said the additional enforcement would not solve the problem. "We're not always going to be there," he said. Fister and Smith are urging park users to take more responsibility for their own pets.

"People need to pay attention to what their dog is doing," Fister said.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com