Dog parks on the rise in Delaware

Heather Martin with her dog Peter at the Tidbury Dog Park in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Little Creek, a town of about 225 people, is in the planning stages of building a dog park on a small piece of town-owned parkland just south of the post office. If the project receives funding, it’ll be the latest in a consistent line of recently constructed dog parks — Dover’s Tidbury Park in 2008, the Milford Dog Park in 2014, and most recently Lewes Unleashed Dog Park last August. According to BringFido.com, a resource that aggregates dog amenities, Delaware has about 35 “off leash” dog parks.

Little Creek will hold a public workshop on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the fire station at 311 Main St. to discuss the future of the project. Town representatives, including Mayor Glenn Gauvry, posed the idea of a dog park to Kent County Levy Court last month where it was well received. County commissioners instructed the town to obtain its residents’ support, put together a detailed presentation and return to their June business meeting for a more detailed pitch, noted Mayor Gauvry.

“We recently updated our comprehensive management plan, and as part of that, I sent out a questionnaire,” said Mayor Gauvry. “One of the things the community said they’d like to see done is finding a use for that park. Right now it’s manicured, but it doesn’t get used very often. We had a volunteer firefighter pose the idea of a dog park, and we thought that it might fit really nicely there.”

Mayor Gauvry has selected a 150-foot by 130-foot section of the park that the town would fence off. He said a fact-finding mission to the Milford Dog Park earlier in the month helped him build a template of the project’s scope.

The town of Little Creek plans to build a small “off leash” dog park on this piece of town-owned land just south of the post office on Main Street. The town is holding a public workshop on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the fire station at 311 Main St. to discuss the future of the project. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

“Milford Dog Park is city-run and people seem to really like it — it’s very nice,” he said. “We like its scale and how it’s set up, so we’ll be trying to borrow a lot from the design. It has two fountains, one of them fancy. But just by asking around, we found out that people prefer the less fancy one that’s frost-resistant.”

The main purpose of the meeting on Wednesday is to determine whether the small town sees the need for the park.

“Our task now is to get to see if there is any opposition and the point where we can make a presentation in the beginning of June as to what our costs will be,” said Mayor Gauvry.

His early cost estimate is between $15,000 and $20,000. It’s unclear as to what proportion of the cost the county would be willing to assume, but Mayor Gauvry said that without their help, the town will be unable to do it.

“If it weren’t for Levy Court, a project like this would be impossible,” he said. “It might seem like a small amount to other communities, but to us it’d be like half the money we have in the bank.”

The proposed price tag is fairly similar to what Kent County paid to set up Tidbury Park on 2233 S. State St. in Dover. According to Kent County Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Michael Rigby, they paid $22,481 to build the park in 2008. The purchase included a well, pumps, fencing, concrete, signage, trees, benches, grass seed, fertilizer and lumber. Since then, the park has seen continuous and sustained use, said Mr. Rigby.

“It absolutely gets used daily by patrons,” he said. “We try to meet the demands of the citizens of Kent County, and we had a fair number of inquiries about dog parks beforehand so we decided to build one because we had that location that was basically an open area not really being utilized.”

Owners are welcome to walk their dogs at all county parks, but Tidbury Park is the only county-run “off leash” park. The park is open to the public, but users must have their dogs licensed, be current on vaccinations and follow posted rules.

The Lewes Unleashed Dog Park was completed last August after about five years of planning and site scouting. It sits on a 4.5-acre slice of the 66-acre Great Marsh Park. The park is divided into three sections, a main area, small dog area and events area where trainings, clinics and other activities are planned. (Submitted photo)

The recently completed Lewes Unleashed Dog Park was a bit more expensive and complicated, but it does offer more amenities to its users. The 4.5-acre park is divided into three sections, a main area, small dog area and events area where trainings, clinics and other activities are planned.

Paul Collins, the vice president of the seven-person board that runs the private park, said the process of finding a good location and planning the project began about five years ago.

“We just started off as a few dog lovers trying to find a place to take our dogs to play unleashed, but things really took off,” he said.

“The city agreed to sub-lease us a part of the 66-acre Great Marsh Park for a favorable rate and we got some help from the state with infrastructure

Heather Martin’s dog Peter drinks water at Tidbury Dog Park in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

costs. We were able to get a $50,000 grant through the transportation division, which really helped with the costs of putting in fencing, water lines and running electric.”

Also, the dog park has a membership fee structure to assist with its operation. It currently costs $60 per year for a family to use the park, said Mr. Collins.

“We didn’t really know what to expect at first. We were hoping for at least 200 people to be interested,” he said. “People really embraced it though. There was a huge demand. We have almost 700 members now. So far, there haven’t been any issues with overcrowding, but we are going to watch it this summer. We may actually end up needing to cap the membership if it gets too full.”

Mr. Collins believes that the demand is so high because the state has a high number of dog owners and it can sometimes be tricky to find an area where they can be “unleashed.”

“We’re a very dog-friendly environment down here. There are lots of dog events that take place because there are so many pet owners here,” he said. “Sometime though, there are no straightforward places to take them to run. For a large portion of the year they aren’t allowed on the beach except on a leash.”

As far as online rating resources like SafeWise and Rankings are concerned, Delaware does pretty well in terms of “dog-friendliness.” Compiling data concerning number of animal shelters, “no-kill” shelters, animal cruelty laws, Humane Society rankings and other regulations and amenities, SafeWise ranked Delaware the 11th most dog-friendly state in 2017 and Rankings rated it the 16th in 2016.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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