The road leading to Peachtree City's dog park has been long and winding, but if all goes well, man and his best friend will be enjoying wide-open spaces before school starts again in the fall.
Finding a place for the park in this planned community of 35,000 located 35 miles southwest of Atlanta proved to be the biggest obstacle, but many other lessons have been learned along the way.
Plan that Puppy
The effort to create a dog park began in early 2002, when a city council member brought it up at the annual council retreat, responding to suggestions from constituents. The Recreation Department staff was directed to form a citizen's committee that included the council member, a representative of the county humane society and interested citizens.
The committee was formed under the direction of the city's Recreation Commission, adopted by-laws, set up a meeting schedule and started their work. The Recreation staff drew up a list of several potential spots for the park, and arranged a guided tour for the committee. The team began to plan what the park would look like.
They decided it would be at least three acres, on city-owned land, with room to expand if needed. It would be fenced and split into two sections, one for large dogs, and one for small. Trees were preferred for shade, but open space was also desired. A water source was necessary, and amenities such as restrooms for people, drinking water for man and beast and other amenities were discussed. Rules were drafted up for the park's operation.
One of the unique requirements was that the park had to be accessible to the 100 miles of paved asphalt multi-use paths that connect nearly the entire city. The path system would allow the maximum number of people to visit the park without driving a car, walking or using their golf carts instead… much more environmentally friendly options.
After weeks of reviewing location options, the committee chose Drake Field, which was a bucolic lakeside open space surrounded by trees. It would have been a great spot, but as staff further investigated the site it had to be rejected. The main reason was that the site was being purchased by the city using state green space funding, and the requirements for the grant did not allow such a facility.
It was back to the drawing board, and the committee started going down the list of potential sites to pick the next most likely candidate. So it was that a wooded site was settled upon in the northern part of the city called Kedron.
The Kedron site was challenging. It was half cleared and half in heavily wooded space on land adjacent to an existing field house, swimming pools and multi-purpose rink. The land was sloping and featured ravines and underbrush that would need to be dealt with. It almost looked like this would be the spot when Murphy's Law struck again.
A local environmental advocate raised an objection to the selection, saying that the sloping site led to the city's main drinking water source, Lake Peachtree, and that fecal contamination could be washed into it.
County and State EPD experts were consulted and even though the chance was extremely remote, it was determined that the claim was feasible. Mitigating actions would have been expensive and time consuming, so the committee chose not to continue with that site.
The third selection was a site in the southwestern portion of the city adjacent to a large baseball and soccer complex. It bordered a state highway on 22 wooded acres that had been destined for years on a draft master plan to be used for five additional soccer fields. That fact drew criticism from the soccer association.
The baseball association didn't like the idea because of the potential for unmonitored dogs to be using the baseball fields as restrooms. It was not looking good for this site.
Then somebody suggested a site no one had yet considered, a recreation complex called McIntosh Trail. It was centrally located, intersected the cart path system from many directions, had support facilities available, was in a wooded area that could be partially cleared on flat or gently rolling land and didn't appear to interfere with anybody else's activities.
The recreation staff investigated and found more than enough room available. It was decided, and City Council approved this site mid-year, 2004.
"We were very happy with the final site selection," said Fred Bryant, a retired army officer who had by then become president of the newly formed dog park association, which entered into a formal agreement with the city.
"It took time, but we wanted to make sure the site selected would serve needs of all citizens in the city, and this site was perfect."
The committee had already begun fundraising and had nearly enough money to begin. With some advice and support from city recreation and planning staff a plan was devised for clearing only a central portion of the land. "We wanted to keep as many trees as we could," said Bryant, "not only for shade but to keep a buffer around the perimeter of the park."
Clearing started on the park in late 2004. Hurricane-driven rain and other minor issues held up progress along the way, but the park is now nearly cleared and fencing is expected to begin soon. After three years, it looks like a dream will soon become reality in Peachtree City.
Barking up the Right Tree
Every community will face different issues when attempting to introduce a dog park as an amenity. But Peachtree City canine advocates learned a few important lessons worth sharing...
First, expect the NIMBY effect (Not In My Back Yard). Many people thought it was a fine idea, but didn't want it near them for one reason or another. Careful site selection is a key to success.
Also, anticipate some outright opposition to the idea. Some people just can't accept using public resources to benefit dogs. The counter argument is that it serves the tax paying people who own the dogs, not only as a place to allow their animals safely off leash, but also as a place to meet new people who have common interests.
It is best to organize the committee so that the funds expended are all private funds, and none public, if possible. The Peachtree City council did approve to donate $5,000 to the cause after much public debate, but the dog park committee offered to pay it back once adequate funds were raised, thus thwarting naysayers.
The land and administrative support is what the local government can provide; form the committee under a body such as the Recreation Commission to allow for government support. The committee should get its 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status as soon as possible to enhance fund raising efforts.
Rules should be established and codified regarding who will be responsible for what at the park, especially regarding clean up. Early in the Peachtree City process, there was an attempt to make maintenance crews responsible to pick up inside the fence on a routine basis. The Leisure Services Director dug in his heels and refused to allow his staff to be handed such a task. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of users to clean up after their animals, and the dog park association is responsible to ensure that happens.
Based on the large number of inquiries about when the park will open, staff and the dog park committee have no doubt it will be heavily used once it's opened. Thanks to this successful public-private partnership, citizens –- and their dogs -- will have a unique amenity available for use.
Randy Gaddo is Director of Leisure Services (Parks, Recreation and Library Services), Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (770) 631-2542 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.