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People love to let their dogs run free through Parley's Historic Nature Park. Unfortunately, they are loving the park to death, mostly at nature's expense. That's why a plan to manage and rehabilitate this haven of natural open space is long overdue.

The Salt Lake City administration has proposed a management plan for the 63-acre park in the ravine at the mouth of Parleys Canyon. It would limit areas open to off-leash dogs, rehabilitate the stream corridor and set aside areas for wildlife. Goals of the plan are to protect and restore the corridor surrounding Parley's Creek, improve water quality, enhance plant and wildlife habitat, control weeds, preserve historic structures (including a pioneer-era sandstone aqueduct), and enhance multiple uses of the park while preventing conflict among them.

The park is heavily used by dog walkers, hikers and BMX bicyclists. But since the city allowed unleashed dogs throughout the park several years ago, that use has come to dominate the park to the exclusion of others. This plan seeks to reclaim some balance, both in terms of use and the physical environment. People and dogs traveling along the stream have trampled plants, causing erosion, and driven ground-dwelling wildlife out of the park.

Some dog owners are complaining that the plan would deprive them of one of the few large public playgrounds in the valley for off-leash pets to roam freely. The plan would reduce the off-leash areas in the park to approximately 10 acres divided between two locations. That's admittedly a large reduction, but not elimination.

Besides, the environmental degradation from the status quo should be reversed, and the park should be managed to restore it for other uses for which it was intended, such as a haven for wildlife and nature lovers, as well as walkers who don't want to deal with free-roaming dogs and their poop. The water quality in the creek and the endangered Bonneville cutthroat trout in it should be better protected.

Though the plan would move trails away from the creek to allow rehabilitation of the riparian corridor and its vegetation, it also would designate a new off-leash water play area for dogs in the west end of the park. A separate, fenced off-leash area would be created in the east end. The plan would protect wetlands and historical structures by limiting access to them, and it would create a nature preserve on the park's south slope.

The plan strikes a reasonable balance among competing park uses. The challenges ahead include finding the money to rehabilitate the park and enforce rules for its use.