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City to monitor first 2 dog parks

Before embarking on as many as eight more, St. Petersburg may monitor the success of the first two.

By JOHN REINAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- An ambitious plan for dog parks throughout the city of St. Petersburg may hinge on the success of dog parks at Crescent Lake and Coquina Key, city and neighborhood officials say.

The City Council appears poised to approve the Crescent Lake dog park, which has received strong support from neighbors.

But a top city administrator said he'd like to see dog parks at Crescent Lake and Coquina Key in operation for a year before deciding whether to build as many as eight more in St. Petersburg.

"The Council has indicated they would like a number of dog parks," said Lee Metzger, leisure services administrator. "We have indicated we would like to try a couple as pilot projects.

"We want Crescent Lake and Coquina Key in place for about a year before we put in any others."

Construction has started on the Coquina Key park, which was approved last month. Metzger said he expects the Council to hold a public hearing July 19 on the Crescent Lake plan. If approved, he said, the park could be completed in 4-6 weeks at a cost of about $9,000.

The proposed site is at the south end of Crescent Lake, in an area already bounded in part by tennis courts and the outfield fence of Huggins-Stengel Field. It measures about three-quarters of an acre.

The dog park, where canines would be allowed to run freely off leashes, has drawn widespread support. Gene Egg, a dog owner who lives on 19th Avenue N, led a petition drive that produced more than 800 signatures in favor of the park.

And last week, about 30 attendees at a meeting of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association voted unanimously in favor of the proposal.

"If it doesn't work, I will be the first to say, "Take it out,' " said association president Clifford Holensworth. "But this has really gotten substantial support."

Said Mary Dunham, who lives with her two Great Danes on 18th Avenue N: "Dogs need to run, and I can't really give them the workout they need (on a leash). And dogs need to socialize.

"For a lot of people, their dogs are their kids," Dunham added. "They want the best for them."

Dog parks have caught on across the nation in the past decade. Supporters say they're a way to let dogs as well as owners socialize, while keeping the animals away from children and older people who use the same parks.

Elizabeth Warren, the new Pinellas County parks director, helped establish several dog parks in Sarasota County before coming here.

"I think it's a wonderful leisure amenity," she said. "It's been very successful in Sarasota and across the country.

"People are spending all their time at work in front of a computer," she said. "At the dog park, they actually talk to people."

The county has a dog park under way at Walsingham Park that should be completed within a year or so, Warren said, and Anderson Park will be considered for one. There are also proposals to expand a small leash-free zone at Fort De Soto Park.

Even the dogcatchers support the dog parks.

"We're advocates of that," said Kenny Mitchell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services, which enforces leash laws throughout the county. "It's very good if people take it seriously and keep their dogs in the park."

However, Mitchell said there are no plans for any special crackdown on people who let their dogs off leashes outside the dog parks.

"I don't know that it's going to change our enforcement," he said, adding that the city would have to handle any issues that arise within a dog park.

"The city has never talked to us about it, which probably they should," Mitchell said.

Given the vigorous backing the Crescent Lake park has received, it seems likely to get City Council approval.

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