All LTC land is managed with conservation values, such as wildlife habitat and watershed protection, in mind. These values must be balanced with human uses. Dog walking is only one of many activities people enjoy on our nature preserves. Having dogs off-leash is not only harmful to our conservation values, it makes our preserves less welcoming to other users. Off-leash dog use is keeping some would-be preserve users away!
It is easy to think that you’re all alone in the woods in northern Michigan, but our preserves see a lot of usage. Especially in places closer to town, like the Allan and Virginia McCune and Bubbling Springs nature preserves, there are conflicts between dogs who are off-leash and other preserve users. Sometimes these dogs approach people and frighten them, even if they’re just running up to them with happily wagging tails. As dog owners, we may have a hard time imagining someone else being frightened of our dogs. We need to remember that when faced with a strange dog not under a person’s direct control, many people see dogs as unpredictable and threatening, regardless of how small, cute, or friendly they may be.
While you may know that your dog is safe and friendly, other trail users may not feel the same way. Safety concerns are a primary reason why some people worry about encountering off-leash dogs in public areas. They may be concerned that a dog could jump or push past them, causing them to lose their balance, or that the dog could be aggressive towards them or their own dog. These concerns are especially relevant on boardwalks or in other crowded areas where space is limited. Even a friendly dog that is over-exuberant could pose a risk to people with limited mobility or balance.
In addition to safety concerns, there are also practical matters to consider when it comes to off-leash dogs in public areas. Some people worry that an off-leash dog may approach their own dog, causing a reactive response. It can be difficult to control an on-leash dog who is excited about an off-leash dog running around. Furthermore, it can be challenging to be sure that you are cleaning up after your dog when they are off-leash. Leaving dog waste in public areas contributes to pollution of our waterways with E.coli bacteria.
Overall, it is important to be mindful of other trail users and to respect the rules and regulations regarding dogs in public spaces. Keeping your dog under control and cleaning up after them can help create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone to enjoy.
Sometimes, you really are the only person at a nature preserve, and you may feel confident that your dog won’t bother anyone else. We still ask that you keep your dog on leash to reduce your dog’s impact on the wildlife that the preserve was established to protect. Some wildlife movements are impacted by the presence and scents of humans and pets on trails. When dogs are off leash, this negative impact expands the size of the impact area at a preserve. Off-leash dogs often frighten wildlife, even if you never see the critters hiding in the woods. Many of our preserves are home to birds that nest on the ground, and they may abandon their nest if dogs disturb them. In addition to disturbing wildlife, off-leash dogs are more likely to dig, which disturbs the soil and damages vegetation while creating ideal conditions for invasive species to colonize the area. Digging can even disrupt the microbial community in the soil which stores carbon and nourishes the native vegetation. There are also risks to your dog from digging. Blastomycosis is a fungal respiratory disease dogs can get from digging in the soil. It is present in our service area and can be difficult to treat.
We understand that walking through nature with a dog is what brings many people close to nature. For many, it is the main way we relate to nature. There is one nature preserve where you are allowed to have your dog off leash any time other than nesting season for ground nesting birds (April 16th-July 8th). It is not a dog park, and there is no fence aside from a short segment near the entrance to prevent dogs from running up to the neighbor’s house. The boundaries are clearly marked, and there is plenty of space for you and your dog to explore a nature preserve without using a leash. Dog handlers are still responsible for keeping their dogs in line, and for managing their dogs’ safety. There are porcupines and skunks on the preserve, and interactions with other off-leash dogs is possible. Please read the full rules before visiting to determine if Van Lokeren Family Lakeside Nature Preserve is an appropriate place to bring your dog. This is an experimental preserve usage; if it goes well, off-leash use can continue. There is also a municipal public dog park in Boyne City. Search for Ridge Run Dog Park.
Protecting rare wildlife on our preserves is a priority, so some preserves may be closed to dogs completely or during certain times of the year if the endangered Piping Plovers nest there. These ground nesting shore birds are endangered because there is not a lot of suitable nesting habitat for them left, and allowing dogs on beaches further diminishes their numbers. Having dogs on beaches can permanently scare Piping Plovers off or lead to dogs killing endangered birds.
Closed to dogs:
- Woollam Family Nature Preserve
- Waldron Fen Nature Preserve
- Thorne Swift Nature Preserve.
- Vermilion Point Nature Preserve is closed to dogs from May 1st – August 15th.