It's been more than five years in the making, but it looks like Gig Harbor dog owners will finally have at least one place where Fido will be able to run free.
commissioners held a community meeting Tuesday night, Dec. 13, at the Pavilion to gather input on what to do with 97 acres it's just leased from the . What appeared all but certain is that as much as a third of the property will be dedicated to creating Gig Harbor's — and unincorporated Pierce County's — first fenced-in, off-leash dog area.
"I think there is hardly a possibility that it won't occur. Off-leash dog areas are pretty well utililized, so I think it could be a real asset for the community," said PenMet Parks Executive Director Terry Lee, in a recent interview. "It's more of a question of how large of a dog containment we do."
PenMet has had $225,000 set aside for off-leash park creation since 2010 and could decide to spend that money on more than one site. Besides the Bujacich property, two other locations at the Purdy Transfer Station on 144th St. NW and near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are serious contenders for some of those dollars. There's been some discussion about using a small piece of PenMet's recently acquired Peninsula Gardens property as an off-leash area for dogs as well.
The Bujacich property tops the list of potential locations because of its size and features. The most vocal dog park advocates want an off-leash area of at least 30 acres, something the new PenMet site can do while still leaving 65-plus acres free for other uses of interest to the community.
The 97 acres are located just south of headquarters in the 10100 area of Bujacich Road NW between Sehmel Homestead and McCormick Forest parks. Much of its perimeter is heavily forested, with the central area a mix of trees and underbrush. Runners, walkers and bikers already use its existing network of trails. The equestrian community also regularly use the area.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful wooded property," said Sherette Main, president of Canine Health Education and Welfare (CHEW), a nonprofit set up to advocate for the establishment of a 30- to 40-acre, off-leash dog park in the Gig Harbor area. "We would want to keep it as natural as possible, maybe clear out some small meadow areas with the rest forested trails. We want it fenced in because we want it to be safe, not just for the dogs but for everyone."
Some residents at the meeting, however, thought 30 acres for a single dog park might be excessive. Could owners have a hard time keeping track of their unleashed dogs over such a large area? Would PenMet be able to keep the grounds poop-free and well maintained?
Main said that CHEW was “more than happy” to help maintain the grounds and trails in the dog park. But adequate size would be an important element in doing that.
“The larger it is, the more use you can have of it,” said one dog owner in the bigger-is-better camp, who noted that the 16-acre has suffered from being Gig Harbor’s unofficial dog park largely because of its small size. “With 30 acres you can put 50 dogs on it and you’re not going to interfere with the flora and fauna.”
You can also carve out a separate area for small dogs — an important issue for their owners — while still leaving plenty of space for larger ones to roam. Dave Cole takes his two miniature dachshunds to Bandix Dog Park in Olalla several times a week because there’s a separate area for them. "If wasn't for that small dog area, I don't know how often I would go there," he said.
It’s possible that some special needs of dogs or their owners could be accommodated at other locations. PenMet commissioners are on board with the notion of multiple off-leash sites. What they decide to do in this regard will no doubt be part of the mix in determining how much of the Bujucich property will go to dogs.
Lee said PenMet is in the final stages of acquiring about seven acres of the so-called Narrowsgate property, near the 24th St. NW overpass, where contractors had put modular offices during construction of the new bridge. About five acres of that could be fenced off for a more open space, off-leash dog area.
“Folks who don’t want a large wooded experience could go there. People who are elderly or handicapped may find this site easier to use,” Lee said.
PenMets is also well into talks for a joint-use agreement with the Pierce County Solid Waste Division covering 104 acres next to the 144th St. transfer facility. It’s looking at creating a 12-acre off-leash area around a grassy capped landfill, possibly even having some additional off-leash pockets along a trail network for walkers and runners throughout the property, said Lee.
All of the community comments, as well as the opportunities available with the other sites, will be taken into consideration over the coming weeks as the parks commissioners define their master plan for the Bujacich land. They could decide to spend most of PenMet’s dog park funds on a single, large containment area at Bujacich, said Lee. They could also opt to develop that site in stages in order to channel funds into opening off-leash areas at the transfer site and Narrowsgate.
However the commissioners choose to proceed, Lee said it’s possible a Bujacich off-leash dog area could be open within the first half of 2012. He’s also confident it could ultimately be perceived as state-of-the-art.
“We’ve got the money and resources to do it right,” he said. “It should be a dog park that people talk about.”