BUCKHANNON – Dogs should have a place to play, too!
So say members of the city of Buckhannon’s Dog Park Committee, a subcommittee of the city’s Animal Care and Control Board.
Several members of the committee appeared before city council at its regular meeting Thursday night to brief council members on its plans to build a city dog park on West Virginia Wesleyan College-owned property adjacent to the Riverwalk.
The committee also requested that the city allocate $10,000 in its 2017-2018 fiscal year budget to get the park up and running.
Plans are for the park to stretch over 63,235 square feet or 1.4 acres, according to Joshua Hinchman, a Buckhannon resident who works as the assistant director for the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission.
Hinchman said the fenced-in, off-leash dog park would provide a safe place for well-behaved animals to socialize in a clean environment with other dogs and their owners.
“A successful dog park is one that will provide both dogs and their owners with an enjoyable environment for interaction,” Hinchman told council. “It allows dogs to interact and play in a safe environment. Socialization helps dogs develop healthy relationships with other dogs as well as humans and helps them to learn to behave at and away from the dog park.
“It also helps them expend their energy in a productive and controlled manner,” Hinchman continued. “Dogs that get more exercise have healthier lifestyles and tend to be calmer in public and at home.”
According to Hinchman, there are 447 dogs registered in Buckhannon city limits and 3,983 registered in Upshur County.
But dog parks don’t just benefit canines. Hinchman said they provide a venue in which pet owners can socialize with other pet owners about problems they may be having with their dogs.
So, what is needed to establish a dog park?
Fencing (chain-link or wire) including a double-entry gate, waste bag dispensers, garbage receptacles, picnic benches, tables, umbrellas for shade, water fountains for people and dogs, signage listing rules, penalties and hours of operation, Hinchman said.
Another member of the Dog Park Committee – Maria Bray – made a pitch to the city, requesting that they allocate $10,000 in next year’s budget.
“A dog park is a social amenity in any community,” Bray told council. “I like my dog more than I like many people, so for me to interact with more people will make be a better person and especially other dog owners.”
Bray also said the establishment of a dog park would cut down on vandalism on the Riverwalk trail because the presence of more people would deter such behavior and that a dog park would make Buckhannon a more “walkable” community.
“We’re here tonight to ask you to consider allocating $10,000 in a line item in the budget to help with the initial start-up costs,” Bray said. “Dog parks don’t need a lot of maintenance but getting it started is expensive. The biggest expense is the fencing. For ongoing maintenance and care, we have commitments from community members and a group at the college that will help us keep it clean.”
Bray said if the city dog park is successful, the committee will consider establishing two or three more dog parks throughout the county.
Councilman David Thomas asked how the ongoing maintenance of the dog park would affect the city’s budget.
“So your expectation for this year is $10,000, but then that would go down significantly and maybe we wouldn’t even have to budget it?” Thomas asked Bray.
Bray replied, “That’s my hope, especially since I’ve seen such a good reaction from the community. I really hope community support will help us raise the necessary funds so that we don’t have to ask for more, unless it’s for maintenance and repair.”
Thomas said he wasn’t concerned with the $10,000 so much as the man hours city crew will have to dedicate to maintaining the park.
“The only concern I really have is not the initial $10,000 – it’s what city department is going to continually maintain that because we only have so many hours and our crews have so many things we have to do on an annual basis,” Thomas said.
Bray said she expected the fencing to last for years and will be requesting the installation of a security camera on the property.
Mayor David McCauley said the city will either lease the property from the college or set up a property swap “on something the city owns that the college might be interested in.”
“We don’t know the exact mechanism, but it’s going to be a lease or a swap of property,” the mayor said. “You have a letter in your packet from (Wesleyan interim president) Boyd Creasman promising one or the other.”
McCauley noted that there are approximately 3,200 dog parks across the U.S.
“We are definitely not reinventing the wheel,” he said, also adding that liability for having a children’s playground exceeds that of liability for having a dog park.
Bray said pet owners will be responsible for the behavior of their dogs.
She also pointed out that the city ordinance requiring dogs to be on leashes at all times will need to be amended.
Councilwoman Pam Cuppari expressed enthusiasm for the concept.
“I’m thrilled about it,” she said, “and I think if word gets around and we put this in the newspaper, I’m sure there’s lot of people out there who will donate.”
To donate, make a check out to the city of Buckhannon and write “dog park” in the memo line.