Caretakers of Schenck Forest tried many things over the years to persuade dog owners to leash their pets, but nothing worked. Not warning signs. Not fines. Not even polite lectures by the caretakers themselves.
So now, N.C. State University, which manages the 285-acre forest in West Raleigh, is banning dogs from Schenck. Beginning June 1, first-time offenders will be ticketed for trespassing, and repeat offenders could be arrested, according to the university's new rule.
"We worked as hard as we could to avoid this," said Joe Cox, NCSU's forest manager. "I don't know what else to do."
Some dog lovers said they were disappointed by the ban but understood the university's position.
The decision came after the university warned that it would be using a video camera to monitor compliance to the leash rule for three weeks in April. Results from that experiment found that 23 percent of dog owners who visited the forest on weekdays complied with the rule. On weekends, it dropped to 16 percent, according to a statement issued by the university.
When the weather is good, the forest of loblolly pine, white oak, red maple and other types of trees draws hundreds of dog walkers during the week and even more on weekends. Many can't resist unleashing their pets so they can run around, chase Frisbees and swim in the creek.
The free-roaming dogs may appear harmless, but Cox said that over the years they've attacked other dogs and frightened walkers as well as students and professors doing research work.
They've even caused erosion of the creek banks and have damaged the root system of a landmark 150-year-old oak tree, Cox said.
"The situation has just gotten out of control," he said.
But not everyone noticed.
On Tuesday, Sarah Pasell, a disc jockey who lives in Raleigh, came to the forest to take a walk. She said she has never been bothered by unleashed dogs in the forest.
Pasell, 28, called the ban silly.
"We're in a city," she said. "Where else are you supposed to take them?"
Bill Hornsby, founder of a group that advocates for more public areas where dogs can run freely, said there's currently not enough space for that.
In April, the Raleigh City Council approved the building of an off-leash dog park in a field near Lake Johnson, and another in Oakwood Park just east of downtown. When completed, those two parks will supplement the popular Millbrook Exchange Park in North Raleigh.
Hornsby had been working with the university to help resolve the problem of unleashed dogs at Schenck.
But he said he wasn't surprised by the ban.
"I think that it just became too popular," said Hornsby, who has been walking his dog at Schenck for seven years. "We appreciate the many years they did allow us to use it."
Staff writer Michael Easterbrook can be reached at 836-5701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.