The Latest: Dogs in Parks and Complete the Gap

At December’s San Mateo County Parks Commission hearing, Commissioners received an update on the Complete the Gap trail project and made a recommendation on dog management policies.

Complete the Gap Trail Project

This project is part of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail system that stretches from San Bruno to Woodside along the eastern side of the San Francisco watershed reservoirs. Sixteen miles of the 17.5-mile Crystal Springs Trail are complete. What remains are the more challenging segments, including this project which, when done, will remove the final gap to provide continuous trail from San Bruno Avenue to Highway 92. The South of Dam trail segment was completed in late 2014. The Crystal Springs Dam Bridge Trail will be completed in early 2018.

The new segment will be a multi-use trail on the western shoulder of Skyline Boulevard. There are currently four design alternatives, but the preferred alternative includes a rub rail which protects trail users from the road. Construction of this project is expected to occur in 2019. You can read the staff report here.

Dog Management Policies

Several members of the Dog Management Committee presented their work to the Parks Commission and a common theme was praise for Parks Staff and the process itself which was called positive, collaborative and productive.

San Mateo County is currently operating under an old ordinance that prohibits domestic animals, including dogs, in County Parks. There are a few exceptions to the rule, including acquired properties that had a history of dog access.

Currently, dogs are allowed in

  • Quarry Park
  • The Bay Trail: Coyote Point
  • The California Coastal Trail: Mirada Surf, Pillar Point Bluff, Devil’s Slide and the Bluff Trail at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

The Committee was charged with coming up with policies for dogs in parks for the Parks Commission’s approval. Committee members represented a wide range of perspectives including equestrians, conservationists, dog-owners, park rangers, youth and other community leaders. The Committee’s mission statement is:

“to provide healthy spaces for humans and canines, to assure positive interactions between dogs and other park users, and protect natural resources in San Mateo County Parks.”

The Committee’s over-arching policy for San Mateo County Parks in managing dog access is to promote healthy, safe, and varied experiences for all park users and to protect natural resources.

Secondary policies are:


Dog owner education is an essential component of effective management of dog access, including avoiding user conflicts and protecting natural resources.

  • Provide clear signage stating the responsibilities of park users who bring dogs into the parks.
  • Explore the use of other media to promote dog owner education around park usage.
  • Assure that the messaging has a positive tone and clarifies the reasons behind dog user responsibilities.
  • Foster partnerships with dog and neighborhood organizations to support the messaging around appropriate activities and behaviors for dogs and their owners in parks.

Variety of experiences

Provide a variety of recreational opportunities, increasing park access for a wider range of San Mateo County residents and visitors.

  • Consider designated off-leash areas. If off-leash areas are to be provided, guidelines specific to off-leash use must be developed.
  • Consider dog walking opportunities in both front and back country locations.
  • Continue to provide areas where dogs are prohibited.

Avoidance of conflicts

Minimize conflicts with established uses within the park, such as equestrian use, and with adjacent land uses, such as agriculture.

Pre-existing uses

Where dog use occurred prior to a transfer or acquisition of park property, favor continuing that use, if consistent with other policies and objectives.

Protection of Natural Resources

Protection and enhancement of the County’s natural resources is one of two purposes stated in the mission of the Parks Department. Ensure that impacts to sensitive resources and disturbances to wildlife are avoided or minimized.

  • Dogs should not be permitted to harass wildlife or be allowed to dig in the ground.
  • Dogs should not be allowed to enter sensitive habitat areas, such as watercourses, marshes and ponds, areas under restoration and areas that are inhabited by species of special concern.
  • In areas where dogs are allowed, sensitive habitats should be clearly demarcated with signage
  • or fencing, where appropriate.
  • Unless otherwise provided for, dogs should be constrained to trails and fire roads at all times.
  • Dog owners shall be required to bag their dog’s waste and deposit it in the receptacles provided for that purpose. Bagged dog waste left on the ground will be considered litter.
  • Appropriate waste containers and bags should be located strategically at dog accessible park sites. Such containers should be easily serviceable on a regular basis by staff and/or volunteers in order to effectively to manage dog waste.

Considering New Areas for Dog Access

When considering new areas for dog access:

  • Look for opportunities adjacent to urban areas and neighborhoods where there is demand for dog walking;
  • Ensure adequate staffing, staff training and facilities can be provided to effectively manage the new use and address any increase in demand;
  • Consider adjacent uses and whether connecting trails that allow dogs can be continued;
  • Consider opportunities for dog access that are restricted by time of day or day of the week as needed or appropriate to balance park uses and provide a variety of park experiences;
  • Ensure that all other policies regarding managing dog access can be met.


Enforcement mechanisms should be adequate to deter behavior that is not compliant with dog ordinances intended to protect park users and resources. Consider a structure of warnings and/or fines for infractions, with escalating fines for repeat offenders.

Playgrounds and Play Areas

Dogs should not enter playgrounds or play areas where it is posted that no dogs are allowed.


Dogs must be leashed at all times, unless otherwise posted. All leashes must be no longer than 6 feet when encountering others on trails.

Number of Dogs per Person

Visitors may have no more than three (3) dogs per person.


The Committee recommended that these policies be piloted at one or more parks. The Parks Commission approved the dog management policy recommendations. They will now be forwarded to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for review. To learn more, visit the San Mateo County Parks web-page here.

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