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Part of Hager Park to be proposed location for off-leash dog park

Final approval of the project isn't expected until more developed plans are brought back to the council

August 21, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • A portion of Hager Park has been selected as the proposed location of a new off-leash dog park in Hagerstown.
Herald-Mail file photo

A portion of Hager Park has been selected as the proposed location of a new off-leash dog park in Hagerstown, and the Hagerstown City Council was receptive to initial plans during a work session Tuesday.

The idea of building a dog park was brought up about three years ago, but was eventually shot down by neighboring residents who did not want more noise or increased traffic near their homes, city officials said.

The proposed dog park location, about two-thirds of an acre in the northeast section of Hager Park, is suitable because it is close to existing restrooms and about 25 underutilized parking spaces, and no residences are in the immediate surrounding area, city Engineer Rodney Tissue said.

“It definitely shows progress if you can incorporate our four-legged friends into the community, too,” Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

Final approval of the project isn’t expected until more developed plans are brought back to the council in one or two months, Tissue said.

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“In the meantime, I’d really like to hear from dog owners in our community,” he said. “Those people could really help make it happen.”

There are currently no off-leash dog parks in Washington County.

Councilman Forrest W. Easton raised the issue of liability for bites or injuries while inside the park, as well as how it would be kept clean.

Tissue said that if the park is open to residents free of charge, it would release the city’s liability, which would then fall solely on the dogs’ owners. The park would have to be “self-policing” when it came to animal waste cleanup, and several waste stations would be set up throughout the facility for that purpose, he said.

Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, attended Tuesday’s meeting with the five-member council and offered comments on the proposed park.

Miller warned city officials about the dangers of mixing “people parks” with dog parks, since some people are afraid of dogs or vice versa. It could cause potential behavioral issues with the pets, he said.

Tissue downplayed the issue, saying that Hager Park is not a high-traffic area, especially throughout the week.

“It’s used some on the weekends,” he said. “It’s a beautiful park, but it’s not heavily utilized.”

The playground equipment currently at the park, which is out of date and will be up for replacement in the near future, could be moved farther away from the proposed dog park to help alleviate any concerns, Tissue said.

“I think we can find ways to separate and not cause any problems,” he said.

Dog parks began in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, with the first official one opening in 1979, Tissue said. There are about 1,200 dog parks in the country, including in nearby Frederick, Md., and Chambersburg, Pa., Tissue said.

The construction of the park is estimated to cost about $35,000, mostly for fencing and entrance vestibules, but Miller offered the idea of partnering with the Humane Society on the project.

Miller said it could be possible to sell benches with plaques in memory of former pets to park users, or explore other avenues to help offset costs for construction and other features. More trees and a gazebo were discussed as possible ways to provide more shade to the area.

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