Residents show dogged support for off-leash park at Greenbank Farm

The beloved off-leash dog area at Greenbank Farm is going to stay intact.

Posted meeting materials led some citizens to fear the Port of Coupeville, which manages the property, was intending to significantly reduce the approximately 50-acre area. A map from a resolution passed in 2009 appears to show a much smaller section of the farm as being dedicated to unleashed pooches.

Recent incidents with less-than-well-behaved canines and/or inattentive owners prompted commissioners and staff to re-evaluate how the dog area operates.

More than 50 people filled Barn A at the Greenbank Farm last Wednesday morning at the Port of Coupeville’s regular meeting. Nearly 30 people signed up to speak, most of whom supported the off-leash area and didn’t want too many fences or a reduction in space.

After public comment, commissioners allocated funding to install fencing around currently used agricultural areas.

“People here, we’re dog people,” Carolyn Cliff said. “We care about this,” she added later.

She said the large areas indicated for agriculture on the resolution’s map with a relatively smaller section labeled for recreation did not reflect actual use of the farm.

Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos explained at the meeting that the borders drawn on the map of concern have technically been in place for a decade, but nothing has been done since then to enforce them.

About nine months ago, the port formed a “dog-walking advisory committee” to make suggestions for how to handle roaming Rovers. At a meeting in October, the committee members said there was general agreement about the need for fencing, according to meeting minutes.

Joe Sheldon, who was a member of the committee, said Wednesday that essentially all of the farm’s trails are within the off-leash area, and there isn’t anywhere for mobility-impaired individuals to walk without fear of running into a perhaps overly exuberant pup. He is also a member of the Audubon Society and said there are also environmental concerns, such as for the savannah sparrow. The bird nests in the area and is severely threatened, he said.

Others spoke of the need for some type of barrier, such as Kim Gruetter of Salty Acres Farms, one of farms that leases land on the property. She said she’s had issues with less friendly pooches wandering to her operation, which is technically outside of the off-leash area.

“We have had some very bad owners,” she said.

A large swath of Greenbank Farm is labeled agriculture, but only a small part of it is currently in active use. There are three agricultural tenants and the Greenbank Garden Club’s community pea patch and hoop house, according to port staff.

At the meeting, two citizens with a background in horticulture said that much of the area designated for agriculture would be ill suited for that purpose because of soil conditions and a harsh microclimate.

“This area, I don’t think you could grow rocks there,” said Terry Rose, Master Gardener, while pointing at the print out of the farm property that’s designated for agriculture. He said other areas, however, are great for agriculture and should be protected by fences.

Many of those who spoke said they would be willing and eager to contribute to a plan for the farm that addresses concerns of the dog walkers, farmers, dog-less walkers and others who visit the land.

Michalopoulos said there will be a public hearing on the topic in the first quarter of 2020 to have “more two-way communication.”

Paco trots along a trail in the off-leash area of Greenbank Farm. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Paco trots along a trail in the off-leash area of Greenbank Farm. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group