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Norman Malfatti was hoping that after 40 years in Santa Rosa, he might finally be able to legally take his dogs for a walk at Annadel State Park.

Many pet owners were looking forward to doing the same now that Sonoma County is poised to take over operations at Annadel, which like most state parks is off-limits to canines.

But county officials confirmed this week that the ban on pooches will remain in place at the 5,000-acre state park, at least for the near future, despite the expected management change-over by July 1.

Malfatti is none too happy about it.

"It makes no sense to outlaw dogs," he said this week at Spring Lake Park, where he enjoyed a morning stroll with Oreo and Lady.

Malfatti said allowing dogs at Annadel, which beckoned a short distance away, would not create problems.

"If you look at this park," he said of Spring Lake, "it's spotless."

County supervisors voted June 12 to authorize a one-year agreement with the state to take over operations at Annadel. The deal, which is awaiting the signature of California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman, would keep Annadel open past a July 1 deadline when dozens of parks statewide are scheduled to close for budget reasons.

Dogs are allowed on leash at Sonoma County's parks with the exception of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park in Windsor.

Some dog owners complain about a lack of places to run their pets and have been salivating over the prospect of being able to access Annadel's miles of trails. Currently, dogs are only allowed on leash on Channel Drive inside the park.

At Spring Lake this week, Joan Rashti said she was "very disappointed" to learn that Annadel will remain off-limits to Izzy, her American Eskimo. "I would love to walk in Annadel," she said.

"Why should we still have to follow the state's rules? It just seems so inappropriate," said a man who declined to give his name.

Bert Whitaker, the county's parks manager, said about two dozen people have contacted his office to advocate for dogs at Annadel. He expressed empathy for their cause but he said for now the ban will remain in place.

He said Annadel's size, abundant wildlife, narrow trails and use by equestrians and mountain bikers could present problems if dogs were allowed in.

"We'd love to assume visitors (to Annadel) would have dogs on a six-foot leash and clean up after them. But not everyone does that," he said.

Several dog owners at Spring Lake agreed with that assessment.

"It's hard enough with the use that park (Annadel) gets to keep it from being degraded," said Matt Murray, who was taking his beagle, Ena, for a walk.

On the other hand, Murray said allowing dogs in to Annadel could generate more revenue for the cash-strapped park.

Candy Lebrun said it's "reasonable" to prohibit dogs at Annadel. "There are miles of trails at Spring Lake and at Howarth Park. I don't think it's a big deal," she said.

Caryl Hart, the county's regional parks director, stated in an e-mail that "unfortunately," dogs are not allowed at Annadel at this time. Hart, who was unavailable for comment this week, wrote that she and Coleman discussed changing that policy and allowing dogs on the park's main trails.

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"I anticipate that these discussions will ultimately be successful if the county continues management of the park," Hart wrote.

But Jay Chamberlin, chief of resources for state parks, stated his view that dogs are not appropriate at Annadel.

Under the county's tentative operating agreement for Annadel, the state would maintain control of the park's natural resources, which Chamberlin said include several animal species that are listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, including red-legged frogs and and western pond turtles.

He said bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes also are frequently seen in Annadel.

"We strongly believe that state parks offer a refuge for the wildlife of all kinds and that it is improper to bring in dogs to interrupt the natural environment of the natural inhabitants of the area," he said.

He said such a policy change likely would require extensive studies at a high cost to the parks department. He cited by way of example the effort to create a dog managment plan in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a plan Chamberlin said has been in development for over six years and cost an estimated $2 million.

"Does it really make sense to undertake this kind of costly policy endeavor, the (California Environmental Quality Act) process, and invite this kind of controversy at this time?" Chamberlin said.

Whitaker said county parks will not consider whether dogs are appropriate at Annadel in the first year of the operating agreement with the state. He said it would be a consideration for the future if the county ends up managing Annadel on a long-term basis.

"We're trying to take this one step at a time," Whitaker said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.)

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