Dangerous E. coli levels found in Jefferson County dog park

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EVERGREEN, Colo. -- There’s a problem piling up in a Jefferson County dog park, and it isn’t pretty.

Elk Meadows Offleash Dog Park in Evergreen is known for its stunning 108 acres of off-leash wilderness trails. The park sees at least 4,000 visitors per week in peak season.

But Elk Meadows is also starting to get a reputation for dog waste.

“I’m actually really stoked,” dog owner Noel Martinez said. “Me and my homies are all like, ‘Yeah. We cleaned up turds."

Martinez was excited to pick up his dog’s waste as well as several others he saw along the trail Monday because park rangers have been vocal about the problem.

“It’s happening at a staggering rate,” Matt Robbins of Jefferson County Open Space said.

The park boasts 10 pet waste station areas and offers free baggies. Robbins said a pile here or there is understandable. But one of the rangers discovered 74 piles within 100 meters of the trailhead Sunday night.

“Maybe they don’t think what they’re doing is harming anything,” Robbins said.

Dog waste does not go away, and it contains harmful bacteria that could make people and pets sick.

Last summer, rangers tested the water from an intermittent stream that runs through the middle of the park. They revealed extraordinarily high levels of E. coli bacteria.

“Literally 20 times what would be considered a dangerous level,” Robbins said.

The stream cascades into Bear Creek and down into Evergreen Lake, which is then treated and used for drinking water.

However, humans can pick up E. coli from letting their pets play around in the dirty water.

“And then you’re not only bringing that up to your vehicle, but then you’re introducing it to your car and then back into your own home,” he said.

Plus, unlike wildlife that eats vegetation, dog waste is made of material that is not native to Colorado’s landscape.

“Look at the back of that dog food can or turn around that bag of dog food and read some of the ingredients. They don’t exist here at Elk Meadows Dog Park,” Robbins said.

Jefferson County Open Space has begun a series of community meetings focused on cleaning up Elk Meadows. Robbins said the efforts might be too little too late, though.

“We really have seen a degradation of the property and the land,” he said. "At some point, we’re going to have to give this land some rest.”

There is no set closure plan in place. Officials will discuss possible options at their next meeting from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the Buchanan Recreation Center (32003 Ellingwood Trail).