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Dog park edges closer to reality

GOLD HILL — A rash of sunny afternoons this week with his short-legged canine pal, Lucy, found Gold Hill resident Sam Hefter counting down the days to the official opening of a planned dog park at the city sports park along Highway 234.

Enjoying the fresh air and blue skies on Friday, Sam and Lucy took a stroll across a grass field that, if all goes well, Hefter said could look an awful lot like the city's new "bark park."

Tucked between Highway 234 and the Rogue River, the grassy spot already surrounded by ball fields, tennis courts and a skate park eventually will be joined by a water-spray park and other facilities. Hefter has helped coordinate the park and donations via a series of community meetings and efforts that will include everything from donation cans to yard-sale fundraisers.

"People are coming out of the woodwork to help, even if it's just a lot of people each doing a little bit. With so many people chipping in, it just makes it feel even more embraced by the community," Hefter said.

Hefter, an 11-year resident of Gold Hill, said he's only a recent fan of dog parks.

"Lucy here has always been pretty solitary. She's always been alone but we took her to a dog park in Ashland and then down in L.A. and it's been quite a thing ... she's now a very social animal. She's practically on Twitter," Hefter said.

"I've found that you get a real exchange of ideas and values at dogs parks. You get to spend a little time talking to people you wouldn't otherwise get to even meet."

Hefter and other project coordinators expect it to cost less than $10,000, with the City Council and CanDo community group contributing two thirds.

"It turns out there's some red tape and a lot of moving parts when it comes to putting a fence around some grass," Hefter said. "But the energy for this project has been great. Getting people in this area excited about one thing without too many dissenting opinions could be a minor miracle."

Once completed, the fenced area will be 200-by-150 feet. Additional funding eventually could incorporate benches, plantings and agility features.

Hefter said organizers are hopeful that funding eventually will allow for a separate area for smaller dogs who might be intimidated at first.

Carla Nance, walking her two retrievers on Friday, said the dog park would be a good fit for the sports park area.

"So many of us are already using the spot to play with our dogs, so it would be great to make some improvements and have an area they can be off leash," Nance said.

Shari Mott, one of a handful of project coordinators, said the momentum for the bark park has been inspiring.

"Since I work at Ray's (Food Place), which is kind of where everyone touches base, everyone is always coming in asking about how it's going. Not only is it going to be a fun place for families to bring their dogs but a place for everyone from little kids to seniors to interact with their dogs," Mott said.

Eventually, Mott and Hefter said events could be held at the park including veterinary clinics, shows and obedience classes via Dogs for the Deaf.

Construction is slated to start May 23 and take about one week with grand opening tentatively planned for May 28.

Hefter said, if he and Lucy had their druthers, they would prefer to see a greater number of residents contribute in small ways versus a few supporters making the project happen.

"We're hoping that we're going to have as many people in the community as we can to have a little skin in the project," he said.

"I'm always pleasantly surprised when things come together like they have. We already have a nice walking path along the river with dog stations," Hefter said. "I think there's really some kind of spark that comes to a community with a project like this."

A garage sale will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 14, at the United Methodist Church, 416 Dardanelle St. To donate items for the sale, send an e-mail to samhefter@msn.com.

Check the project Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/1853606744866312/, for information about the April 30 groundbreaking. A pizza party at Figaro's Pizza, with proceeds benefiting the project, is also planned. Fundraising is being conducted through www.gofundme.com/rfu8yxfg.

—Reach freelance reporter Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Sam Hefter hangs out with his dog, Lucy, at the Gold Hill Sports Park on Friday. Hefter would like to see a dog park near the tennis courts at the sports park. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch