The city of Delaware opened its first dog park early Saturday morning, giving dogs a safe place to run free off their leashes.
While walking her dog, Tressel, Lori Midkiff noticed a big open area at Carson Farms. “I thought, ‘Man, that would be nice if it was fenced so I can let him down to run and play,’” she said. “Then I thought, ‘Gosh, Delaware needs a dog park.’”
Recognizing the need for a dog park, Midkiff took the idea to City Council. She said she knows City Manager Tom Homan. “Tom pretty much said that if you want this to happen, you’re going to have to fund-raise and make it happen,” she said. “There’s no funds available with the city.”
Ken and Peg Guenther, two supporters for the dog park, winter in Florida. “We saw a dog park in Florida that we took our dog to every day. We thought it was great,” said Ken Guenther. “We went to City Council and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we get a dog park in Delaware?’”
Ken Guenther said he did research on dog parks. “I found that there were already 70 dog parks in Ohio,” he said. “Why doesn’t Delaware do that?”
The idea was wasn’t immediately embraced. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Holly Kauf, a member of the dog park committee. “A lot of tears and struggles.”
Building a dog park hadn’t been part of the city’s parks plan. “Ten years ago, if someone would have said ‘dog park,’ what are you talking about?” Homan said. “In the last five years, they’re common and cities are having to respond.”
According to Midkiff, Worthington’s dog park was used as starting point. “Back then we were looking at $200,000,” she said. “But then everybody worked their magic and it happened.”
The city allotted $75,000 for the project. “Come to find out we ended up having some levy money available, (and) they put aside $75,000,” Midkiff said.
“In 2008, city voters passed a recreation levy which allowed the city to reinvest in its parks system,” Homan said. “This is one of the outcomes. Our city responded positively when a citizen group came and said, ‘Where’s the dog park?’”
Homan added, “It’s another way to involve the community.”
“The major take-away for me in this is the grassroots network that brought it to fruition,” Homan said. “It originally was not a part of the overall plan and I think it reflects very favorably on City Council and the community that we were able to make the adjustment. Just because it wasn’t in the original playbook doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. We made the adjustment. We had the funding. We had the ingenuity with our local parks department and we got it done.”
The city gave the committee a list of different properties the city could donate to the project. “We had to go through a site search, so they gave us lots of sites to look at as possibilities,” Peg Guenther said. “The committee was favoring Blue Limestone Park. It was all very shaded but it probably wasn’t going to be big enough.”
The current site at 840 Mill Run Crossings wasn’t the first choice. “We ruled out a lot of sites, and it ended up to be this one,” Peg Guenther said. “It was a mess. Weeds, just weeds everywhere. They weeded, they planted trees, fenced and planted (grass) seed.”
The project turned out better then originally thought. “It’s better, and they did an amazing job,” Midkiff said.
“This space just worked out well, and it’s a good location,” Homan said.
“There are some things that we are going to have to overcome and adapt to but I think it’s a great start when you see all the dogs here today,” the city’s new parks and natural resources director, Ted Miller, said.
“We saved a lot of the cypress trees,” said park superintendent Stacy Davenport. “We didn’t disturb the land at all. What you see is all natural.”
Davenport’s crew poured the concrete at the entrance in the shape of a dog bone. “We recycled two fire hydrants that were going to the dump. We painted them up to look like Dalmatians and added some flair to them.”
The park department had never built a dog park. “The Internet is a wonderful thing,” Davenport said. “You come up with ideas from other dog parks and what they used. We wanted it to be fun for everybody.”
Robbi Scott, founder of Naked Dog Project, donated three toolboxes with bolt cutters, industrial scissors and basic first aid kits to the park. Scott lost her dog, Gracie, when her collar became entangled and choked her to death.
Scott says about 26,000 dogs die from strangulation a year.
The tools are to help prevent strangulation. “These accidents happen across any type of collar,” she said. “If I could save one dog, one family from going through the grief. …”
The dog park committee has additional plans for the park. “We are going to raise funds for additional things,” Kauf said, “an agility area for the dog park and hopefully bring some restrooms in.”
The committee is looking for dog lovers who would like to volunteer. “If people want to volunteer,” Ken Guenther said. “The pay is poor but you get a lot of dog treats.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.