ITHACA, N.Y. — It looks like the city might finally allow your fido or pooch in Stewart Park, but like anything else, there will be rules you have to follow.

“We understand that there are real issues with doing something so simple,” said Rick Manning, Executive Director of Friends of Stewart Park.

The park is the only one left in the city where dogs are not permitted, though dogs are often spotted there anyway. The pitch to allow dogs in the park was taken before the Planning and Economic Development Committee Wednesday night.

Committee chair Alderperson Seph Murtagh said, “I think a lot of times people just don’t even know the rules.”

He said this mean people are taking dogs unto K9-free areas, such as the park or the Ithaca Commons. And once the dogs are there, no rules are in place for them.

But opening up Stewart Park is not a hassle free project that can just be approved by Common Council.

Cayuga Bird Club President Jody Enck said in a letter that while the club supports allowing dogs in the park, it’s possible that unleashed dogs could be devastating to birds and wildlife.

“The birds and other wildlife that use Stewart Park and Renwick Woods are not there as an option, they live there and rely on the area as part of their day-to-day habitat that is necessary for their survival,” she wrote.

She said the club is recommending that dogs be required to stay on a leash and be kept out of Renwick Woods and the “Swan Pen.”

Murtagh and Manning both said that ample signage, community outreach about the rules, and enforcement would be important to consider when drafting a policy about dogs at the park.

“We’d certainly want to work with the city staff…to help sort out that situation,” Manning said. “But consideration of the birds is a huge issue. ”

He said after the meeting that Friends of Stewart Park members noticed an increase in dogs at the park after the Cayuga Waterfront Trail was completed.

Because dogs are allowed on the trail, he said people often assume dogs are also allowed at the park.

But regardless of whether officials decide to officially allow dogs at Stewart Park or not, he said the city needs to take action to enforce dog rules.

“You need to do one or the other and enforce it,” he said.

A draft policy is now in the works to be presented to the committee at a later date.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.