Dog lovers for many years have used the North Campus Field of Southern Oregon University to stroll, relax and have fun throwing the ball for their canine friends. But the construction of new rugby and soccer fields combined with the deposits left behind by some of those dogs means those days may be over.
The university just fenced and locked the several acres at the corner of Iowa and Walker, used herbicides to kill the weedy field, and is now reseeding it with hardy grass for intramural sports, which will open next spring.
"It makes me furious," said Charlotte Carlsen, as she walked her black poodle Riley. "They just fenced us out. We would at least like access to cross the field. We understand it's a rugby field, but you don't play rugby 24/7. There's only one gate now (by the central bike path), and they could leave it unlocked for us."
SOU for years has let dog owners have access and has posted signs saying the canines must be on leash and owners must clean up after them. The new rugby fields had walk-in gates every 80 feet, but those have been sealed up.
"The few (who leave dog feces) ruin it for the rest of us," said SOU landscape supervisor Mike Oxendine, as he ran a big grass-seeding machine back and forth over the new field. "I have a dog, and I totally understand they want a place to walk, but it's locked now and it's going to stay that way."
Drew Gilliland, director of SOU's Management, Facilities and Planning Department, said dogs are, in fact, not allowed on campus at all, but he left the door open a crack for the future.
"It was not designed for dogs, but we overlook it," he says. "We want to be good neighbors, if people are respectful, but if they continue to poop where students are playing sports, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it. We do reserve the right to refuse access."
While he waited for his daughter to get out of adjacent John Muir School, Alastair Weston strolled with his dog, Arrow, noting the field has been an ideal spot for dogs — in part because it's not a real dog park and has only a moderate amount of dog traffic.
"I tried the city dog park (off Nevada Street by the Bear Creek Greenway) but Arrow got mobbed by a bunch of huskies," says Weston. "I come here because it's quiet and the signs indicate dogs can be here, as long as you pick up after them."
The North Campus Field was created in 1982, according to an on-site plaque, and has a formal softball field and a yet-to-be-developed lacrosse field north of that, both maintained by the athletics department, says Oxendine. Intramural sports maintains the new rugby field.
That leaves an L-shaped couple of acres of parkland for dogs, at the corner of Iowa and Wightman. It's shaded by mature oaks and pines and is one of the few spots within several miles where dogs are allowed (on leash). The city of Ashland recently has loosened rules to allow dogs in parks on-leash.
Carlsen said that dog owners who use the property "are conscientious about safety and cleaning up after our dogs."
"You don't bring vicious dogs here and let them off-leash," she said. "I like it that people police each other. If someone lets their dog poop and they wander off, we kindly offer them a poo bag."
SOU over the decades "has worked with the community and we want to see everyone happy," says Oxendine.
"But this is a college, and we're trying to increase our visibility and have better athletics," he noted. "If you go to the University of Oregon or Oregon State University, no way will you see dogs on fields, but we have a better community here and have tried to appease dog owners."
Dog owner Christine Van Pelt says the field has been a real outlet for lots of neighbors who are widowed, divorced and emotionally needy — not just dog owners but families and people flying kites, who just want to enjoy the open space, with a view of the mountains.
Van Pelt suggested a dog owner committee could form to police the area so rugby players would have a clean field and others could continue to use it.
"I feel shut out," she says. "It's been such a good multi-use situation."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.