'Skunk park'? RTF users irked by stripe

Last spring, the city surprised many users of the Rivanna Trail by paving the formerly graveled greenbelt that snakes along the Rivanna River from Riverview Park to the VFW Lodge on River Road. But if those nature lovers were pained then, it's safe to say the City's May 24 painting of a white stripe down the middle of the path is salt in the wound.

"Without exception, everyone I talked to thought it was basically ugly as hell, and they didn't really understand the need for it," says Bill Emory, a Woolen Mills resident who walks his chocolate Lab, Sophie, on the trail nearly every day.

"I've never really encountered enough traffic to warrant a dividing line down the middle of the nature walk," he adds.

But Mike Svetz, the city's head of Parks and Rec, says the need was real.

"It became apparent with bikes, walkers, and dogs off leash that we need to provide people with some direction to stay to the right," explains Svetz, citing several incidents in which loose dogs toppled bikers.

Not everyone is buying that explanation.

"Oh, please!" says former mayor Kay Slaughter, one of the property owners who has granted access across her land for the trail. "That makes no sense," she scoffs, pointing out that off-leash dogs are not likely to heed a painted line.

Slaughter insists that the real problem for bikers is that dog owners are flouting the leash law, which allows dogs to be off leash Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but only on the short loop that begins and ends at Riverview Park.

Emory agrees. He says that while he complies with the law, he frequently sees other dogs cavorting free while their owners stroll behind.

"I yell at those people," he says, explaining his concern that they will "give the city a reason to enforce leash law seven days a week."

Svetz says he's aware of the issues with dogs off leash, but says it's a "police enforcement issue." Currently, dogs are required to be on leash in all city parks and on the Downtown Mall, and on public school and city-owned cemetery property. Exceptions are made for special areas at Darden Towe, Azalea, and Riverview parks.

Emory and Slaughter both wonder about the wisdom of spending taxpayer money on a white line.

"Our suggestion has always been a small sign," explains Slaughter. "For this purpose it could be "Stay to your right, and dogs are to be leashed."

Svetz says his department is considering putting up further signage, but he defends the line, which he calls "relatively inexpensive." The total cost of striping the two mile trail, he says, was $2,300 about 20 cents per foot.

Even so, Emory says, that money could have been spent elsewhere.

"It just seems so totally absurd to stripe a path," he says. "I'm going to call it the skunk park."

Some trail-goers are snorting over the white line at Riverview Park.