Wild and free and friendly

Hurricane rains and mud don’t damper dog park’s official opening

BUCKHANNON — A 1.4-acre plot of land in the Buckhannon Riverwalk area has gone to the dogs — literally.
And there’s nothing bad about that. In fact, the dog owners and community members who braved a chilly, pelting rain to attend the Buckhannon Dog Park’s grand opening at 5 p.m. Friday expressed nothing but excitement and appreciation for the opening of the park. Coordinated by the city’s Dog Park Committee, a group under the umbrella of the Animal Care and Control Board, the dog park was constructed to give canines an off-leash recreational area to play and interact with other dogs, while also providing a chance for their owners to chat.
Resident Keisha George said she previously lived in Charleston and was “astounded” a town of Buckhannon’s size was able to put together a park. Owner of a Labrador-Pitt Bull mix named Gunner, George said dog parks are key to socialization, especially for Gunner, who she rescued.
“He’s a rescue dog, so he needs friends, and he’ll be able to find them here,” George said. “This will be really good for him.”
City councilwoman Pam Cuppari brought her Labradoodle, Barney, to get a first glimpse of — and romp through — the park. She applauded members of the Dog Park Committee, as well as the city workers who collaborated with them to help the park come to fruition.
“I just think it’s wonderful the community has come together to open this dog park,” Cuppari said. “It was needed, and it just shows when people get together they can accomplish anything.”
Following a blessing by the Rev. Chris Scott, the ribbon was cut and dogs of all colors and sizes sprinted gleefully into the fenced-in area, chasing each other, balls and other toys.
Elissa Mills, a member of the Dog Park Committee, said that scene made every ounce of effort worth it.
“The most beautiful thing I think I’ve seen is when we opened that gate and they were just running free,” Mills said. “It was a place to play, and no one was going to hurt them, they were safe. It was just beautiful, even on a day like today.”
Buckhannon Fire Chief Jim Townsend shared similar observations. Townsend assisted in the ribbon cutting ceremony and was there to witness the first several dogs burst into the park.
“As soon as I saw those first dogs start running laps around their new park, playfully chasing each other, I knew this was a really good thing,” Townsend said.
Scott, who brought his dogs, Churro (a dachschund and Chihuahua mix) and Patch (a Jack Russell terrier), categorized himself as a dog lover and praised the community for collaborating to build the park.
“Our dogs are like our kids at this point, and I’m glad they have this so they can get off the leash and exercise,” Scott said. “I think the park is important for the community too, because it adds value, so young people potentially thinking of relocating here might see the park and see added value.”
While West Virginia Wesleyan College president Joel Thierstein described the dog park as a product of “town-and-gown relations at its best,” mayor David McCauley thanked the volunteers, city workers, Lowe’s, High Point Construction and a variety of other entities who sponsored the park by providing labor, money or materials.
“If we could capture the energy of this group of volunteers that came to me last November and said, ‘We want to build a dog park,’ and got it done in less than 10 months, and do the same thing with the Stockert Youth Center gym and Colonial Theatre projects, it would just be amazing,” the mayor said. “And I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the excellent work of our city employees.”
Maria Bray, co-chair of the Dog Park Committee along with Lisa Critchfield, said seeing the dogs frolicking in the park was “a moment of pure joy.”
“Creating places where people can socialize is important for a healthy community, and the dog park is one more opportunity to unplug, get out into the fresh air and play,” Bray said. “The gathering places at each entrance will soon have seating, and I hope to see many of my neighbors simply spending time together.”
Bray noted fundraising has been the most challenging component of pulling the park together, yet said local businesses and individuals have been largely supportive.
“So far, only one organization refused to support the park,” she said. “I think that shows how amazing this community really is when people come together.”
Thus far, the committee has raised $12,290 of its $25,000 goal. With the additional money, more items, such as specialized playground equipment, will be purchased for the park. Donations may be made online at www.gofundme/fxnbxw-dog-park or by mailing a check to Buckhannon City Hall, 70 E. Main St., Buckhannon, WV 26201. Please write “dog park” in the memo line. For more information about the park, please email [email protected] or visit the Buckhannon Dog Park Discussion on Facebook.
Dog Park Committee members include Bray, Robin Keough, Alison Clausen, Brooke Scott, Ginny Dixon, Mills, Steve Beer, Natalie Parkins, Josh Hinchman, Townsend, Scott, Critchfield, Brad Hawkins, Jerry Arnold, Cuppari, Pat Long, Susan Aloi, Robyn Simons, Casey Gilbert, Cynthia McLean and Hannah Lively.

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