From the 6.09.10 issue
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Trying to balance the conflicting needs of dogs and pedestrians at Hiller Park has not been easy.
Dog owners treasure the open spaces of the Hiller Park, which gives their animals a chance to romp and run off leash.
But pedestrians, especially parents with small children, and the elderly, don’t always appreciate being approached by strange dogs that occasionally jump on them, bark, and growl, or worse.
McKinleyville Community Services District Parks and Recreation Director Jason Sehon thought he had a solution – create an official dog park.
Sehon thought that if he fenced in a large two-acre area at Hiller Park as a playground for dogs it would make everybody happy. He was wrong.
At the May 25 meeting of the MCSD’s Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC), Sehon presented his plans for the dog park.
The fenced area would consist of the entire two-acre meadow that is commonly referred to as “the dog meadow.”
Running water would be piped in, so that pooches, and their owners, could get a cool drink.
A shade structure would be built in the middle, and more picnic tables would be added.
He had even figured out a way to build it for minimal cost, using free labor from the California Conservation Corps, and re-cycled fencing materials from Dow’s Prairie School.
Moreover, Sehon said, having a structure on the meadow dedicated to dog-owners would make it less likely that MCSD’s Sewer Department would decide to use the meadow as a site for an expanded wastewater pond.
The Sewer Department owns the land; the Parks and Recreation Department does not, and although the two departments are both under MCSD’s umbrella, they have different missions and separate funding sources.
Most important, no changes would be made to the park’s existing policy of allowing dogs off-leash everywhere except near the parking lot and in the playground.
Dogs do not have to be leashed on the loop trail, or in any of the nearby meadows. They do not have to be leashed on the maze of forest trails, most of which is the property of the North Coast Land Trust.
They do have to be leashed on the Hammond Trail, which is owned by the County, and not by MCSD.
None of this would change under Sehon’s proposal.
However, to his surprise, the 14 dog-owners who showed up at the meeting all said they were adamantly opposed to building the fence.
One of the speakers presented a petition signed by other dog-owners, expressing similar opinions. Some of those opposed to the plan lived in other towns, such as Arcata and Eureka.
There seemed to be some confusion in the audience about park regulations and ownership of the land.
Many erroneously believed that if the fence were built, dogs would be excluded from other areas of the park, or required to stay on leash.
Several asked for a formal dog park without any kind of barrier around it. Others said that the fence would destroy the natural look of the meadow, or make it harder for owners to retrieve their dogs if they got out.
Some speakers said that having the dogs in an enclosed area would encourage the dogs to form packs, even though the enclosed area would be almost exactly the same size as the area where the dogs now play.
Sehon said that he had received many phone calls and letters from McKinleyville residents who did want a fence.
“There are a lot of people in this community, who were not represented here tonight,” remarked RAC member Mary Kay, “who have dogs that don’t stay put, and want an enclosed play area for their dogs.”
Some people, Sehon said, have asked for two fenced areas – one for big dogs, and the other for small or old dogs.
Jim Fritz, a RAC member, said that parents and seniors had told him they didn’t want to have to deal with other people’s dogs, and hoped that having a fenced dog park would minimize that problem.
The RAC decided that more community dialog was needed, and tabled the dog park issue until its July meeting.