Voices

Room to romp off the leash

Here’s the poop on Spokane County’s eight-month-old dog park: There’s a lot of it.

“I think one of our guys came in one week and said ‘I think we had 600 pounds,’ ” said Don Secor, county parks maintenance manager. “I don’t think it’s that much, but yeah we get a substantial amount out there. We have two or three 10-gallon cans out there and it will certainly fill those two or three times a week this time of year.”

The 3 1/2-acre dog park takes up the east end of an old Washington state rest area just north of Interstate 90 on the Idaho state line. Some time ago, the state abandoned the rest area, which it now leases to Spokane County for a dollar a year. The rest area was one of the nicest in Eastern Washington, with heated, fully-serviced restrooms, a visitor’s center, ample parking and plenty of grass.

The new tenants renamed the site Gateway Park and kept up its amenities; including the visitor’s center on the west half of the roughly 7-acre park. The east half was given to the dogs after county workers installed a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence and a new, low-slung drinking fountain for pooches. It is illegal for dogs to run off leash in other city and county parks.

The bark park was years in the making and had its critics, many of whom said if the county was going to build new parks, people, not dogs, should be the priority.

Proponents like Nancy Hill, director of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services, saw a huge need. The park, open every day until dark, is rarely unoccupied.

“What I’ve learned is that Spokane County was overdue for a dog park,” Hill said. “The park has had heavy, heavy use.” Already, the turf in park’s front half has been fenced off to give it a chance to rejuvenate. Officials expected wear and tear, just not so much in the chilly months between October and April. People were bringing their pets to the park despite the public restrooms being closed for the winter and the water being turned off. Parkgoers brought their own jugs of water to keep their pups hydrated.

“That’s something you really do notice out there. On a cold day, you can drive by the other parks and you won’t see anyone,” Secor said. “You go out there and you’ll see people.”

The focus now is to turn that public use into park support. When the dog park opened, county commissioners credited $20,000 in private donations for making the park possible. Now officials would like to add more features to the site, like more covered picnic tables for pet owners and maybe obstacles similar to those used in the popular sport of dog agility.

A Friends of the Dog Park volunteer committee has been started to not only to enhance the existing park, but also to promote parks in other areas of the county and its incorporated cities.

“I think our goal is really just to promote a more dog-friendly community and, of course, more parks,” said Beth Tubbs, Friends of the Dog Park chairwoman. “I think that people underestimate the amount of exercise their dogs need. Really, for them to be off leash and running is the best exercise.”

Nationally, the dog-friendly community needs no promotion. Dog parks are popping up like dandelions. The Associated Press reported last year that roughly 600 parks were in existence, up from 20 known parks in 1995. At the same time, pet products have become a billion dollar industry with big-box stores like PetSmart and Petco devoted entirely to domestic animals. Nonpet-related stores, such as building centers, also are allowing dogs to walk their aisles on leash.

Both Hill and Secor see a need for dog parks in other areas of the county in part because dog owners are traveling 10 miles or more to reach the park at the state line. Tubbs travels some 20 miles from her home on the South Hill to let her two Labradors stretch their legs at the Gateway Park dog area.

Hills said she’s been approached by Idaho dog owners wanting to know when SCRAPS will build a park in Idaho, an impossible task for the animal service based in a Washington county.

There are sites in Spokane County that SCRAPS and others already have considered. A few years ago, Hill was eyeing land for a park near the corner of 12th Avenue and Thierman Road, near Edgecliff. That plan faded after the area became part of the newly incorporated Spokane Valley in 2003.

The existing park is still a work in progress, Hill said. Just recently crews equipped the park with makeshift waste bag dispensers capable of taking plastic grocery bag donations from people frequenting the park. Maintenance crews also are trying to lure patrons to the seldom-used easternmost end of the park with a sitting area; the idea being to take some of the burden off the park’s front half.

Secor’s crews also are adding a drivable entrance to Gateway Park. Previously, patrons had to walk into the park through a large fence opening near the first-mile marker of the Centennial Trail. The change should occur this spring. Gateway Park bathrooms open this weekend. Water to the doggie drinking fountain should soon follow.

Hill said she’d like to see dog training classes offered at the park before too long.



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