fr dogparkWhile the Waynesville dog park’s temporary closure this week might have canines a little bit antsy, dog owners are rejoicing over the reason — a drainage project expected to spell an end to the post-rain sludge that’s been a reality for the well-used park.

fr dogparkMountain dog owners may have started hearing rumor of a devastating canine flu strain coming their way, but according to area veterinarians there’s no cause for hysteria.

fr dogparkDog park patrons have issued a collective howl over recent changes to the fenced in canine play yard along Waynesville’s Richland Creek recreation complex.

Efforts are well under way in both Sylva and Franklin to build dog parks, places where folks’ canine companions can run off-leash in safely fenced, assigned areas.

If the two communities do build dog parks, they’ll be joining their neighbors to the east: the town of Waynesville already has two fenced romping grounds for dogs along Richland Creek Greenway. The town of Highlands in Macon County also has a half-acre dog park, complete with a five-foot-tall fence. Highlands is roughly a 40-minute drive from Franklin, however, putting it out of reach for regular use by Franklin’s dog owners.

Friends of the Greenway in Franklin has been talking about building a dog park for about six months, according to Doris Munday, a member of the nonprofit support arm for the greenway along the Little Tennessee River. Her dog “uses the mountains” as its dog park, Munday said, but that hasn’t blinded her from seeing the needs of others.

Dog owners, if their pooches are leashed and they cleanup waste deposited by their animals, can use the nearly five-mile paved greenway path in Franklin. But the dogs are not allowed off-leash along the popular trail, where upwards of 20,000 people a month can be found during the summer months. Munday said there have been some problems with “neighborhood dogs” trotting about the greenway unleashed and uninvited and apparently illiterate, too; these rowdy dogs are brazen in ignoring rules about leashes and cleanup that are posted along Franklin’s greenway.

Plans this week call for the Friends group to check in with the Macon County Board of Commissioners to make sure the county doesn’t have any objections to a dog park.

In this case, asking permission seemed optimal to begging forgiveness: Munday said no one is exactly sure whether commissioners’ permission is needed for the project to move forward, but that the group decided it seemed proper to find out.

Assuming everyone is OK with the idea, private funds would be solicited to purchase fencing. The hope is to enclose the dog park this winter. Later, if people want to donate more money, the dog park could be enhanced with additional doggie attractions, Munday said.

Some dog parks have separate areas for small and large dogs. Other parks even offer such amenities as dog-agility courses. One standard feature, which would be included if a dog park is built in Franklin, are baggie dispensers so that dog owners can easily cleanup any canine deposits.

Other than the upfront cost of fencing, maintenance on dog parks is relatively minor. In Waynesville, the Haywood Animal Welfare Association buys non-toxic flea control and volunteers regularly sprinkle it on the grass.

In Jackson County, an ad hoc group of dog owners in Sylva requested via a letter sent to the county that they be allowed to use a portion of Mark Watson Park on West Main Street. The Sylva Dog Park Advocates noted in the letter, sent to county officials last month, that it believes a dog park would be “a low cost yet high benefit” addition to Jackson County.

The letter is signed by Stacy Knotts, who serves as a town council member but isn’t acting in that official capacity on this particular project.

She wrote that the group of dog owners believes 10-acre Mark Watson Park, a county-owned facility, would be the best place for a dog park because it is centrally located in Sylva on the county’s (unfinished) greenway; there is open space in the park; there are already pet-owner education classes and the “Bark in the Park” festival taking place in Mark Watson, and such a park would encourage Jackson County’s residents “from letting pets run free on the ball fields, particularly the newly designed fields in the park.”

County Manager Chuck Wooten said the request is being reviewed.

Hampered by a leash law that keeps their canine friends at heel, an ad hoc group of Sylva residents hope to find a place — a puppy park — where dogs can just be dogs, enjoying various doggie things.

In an informal, grassroots sort of get-together that took place one evening last week at City Lights Café, seven Sylva dog owners envisioned a fenced dog park where Rover could run unfettered, chasing a Frisbee or tennis ball, playing nicely with all the other dogs. No cats, of course, would be allowed. Rowdy dogs would be banned.

This field of dreams looks a lot like the dog parks found in Haywood County. Waynesville leaders set aside two fenced areas along the Richland Creek Greenway for dogs and their owners. The parks come complete with baggie dispensers so people can more easily cleanup after their dogs.

“We need an off-leash dog area,” said Stacy Knotts, a Sylva dog owner and town commissioner who emphasized that this, however, was not a town project.

And for good reason: A couple of years ago, Sylva’s town council erupted in fierce debate over whether dogs should be allowed in the then new Bridge Park, a small green space adjacent to downtown with a covered pavilion for holding concerts and community events. The fur flew as council members accused each other of voting to suit various canine agendas.

With that bitter history serving as a backdrop, Knotts said that the group’s hope is to convince county commissioners to let dog owners use one of Jackson County’s parks, with private money, perhaps, paying for needed fencing. Mark Watson Park, located near town, emerged as a clear favorite of the group, but any county park where they’d find an official welcome would be fine, they agreed.

Keith DeLancey, a local therapist with three dogs of his own, agreed to serve as point person on the project. The united effort to develop a dog park grew out of an email exchange between DeLancey and Knotts. DeLancey and his dogs have visited and played in Waynesville’s dog parks, and he proclaimed them “very nice” indeed.

There was discussion about the possibility of having an agility area at this fantasy future Sylva dog-park. Pat Thomas suggested keeping costs down by using bamboo, an idea gleaned from the Internet. She has some on her property that might serve such a purpose.

DeLancey said rough estimates show building 6-foot tall fencing for a half-acre area would cost just more than $600.

The first step will be to discuss the possibilities with the county’s recreation department, Knotts said, and then, later, ask for county commissioners’ support.

“We have a lot to do before we get to that point,” Knotts said.  

A Facebook site for the group, to garner more support from local dog owners, will be built. The group also plans to start a petition drive — a “would you use a dog park” type questionnaire — too.

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