Park District opposes dog park at BARC after public input

At the April 24 meeting of the Vashon Park District, organizers from the group Vashon Unleashed were on-hand to continue advocating for a fenced dog park on the island, namely at a proposed spot inside the Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC) complex. They met with staff and islanders as a decision was made on how to proceed.

“The instruction from the last meeting was to engage with public outreach,” said Elaine Ott-Rocheford, executive director of the park district. “I really got a lot of feedback.”

In all, she said she received several phone calls and 35 emails, in addition to one islander stopping by to voice their concerns.

While there was support for the dog park at BARC, the majority of comments Ott-Rocheford said she received were not in favor, with some statements weighing factors such as clean-up or choosing a more centralized location.

The most contentious topic raised by the prospect of a dog park there, however, remained the disruption it would pose to a disc golf course, which Vashon Unleashed volunteers had found to be underused in their detailed case study of suitable locations for a dedicated park.

Laurel Saville of Vashon Unleashed believes the dog park, currently on hold at the park district level pending further consideration, would be able to coexist with most any group in its vicinity.

“As is often in the case in situations like this, people tend to think of it as an either/or situation,” she said. “We’re trying to reduce conflict between dogs and humans.”

Saville, a writer and dog trainer by profession, said she was heartened by the outward support for a dog park on the island, despite the differences regarding where it should go.

“I left actually feeling quite positive about the support we have. We just have to find the right spot,” she said.

Park district board member Bob McMahon said that he was uncomfortable with the thought of eliminating a space that one group enjoys, even seasonally, in lieu of another.

“I have issues taking away something that already exists for somebody. I think I’d have a real hard time doing that,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone on Vashon wants to take away this golf course,” said Saville, noting that there was an assumption of malice on the part of Vashon Unleashed to replace the disc golf course.

“This is the reason we have the public process,” said Ott-Rocheford.

At the meeting, it was noted that a stipulation in the grant the park district received to fund BARC would likely prevent moving the disc golf course.

“We’re always going to get the argument that, ‘Yes, it’s great, but not here,’” said board chair Doug Ostrom, voicing the impasse he and his colleagues found themselves in.

Members of Vashon Unleashed sought the lower area nearest parking for its accessibility and level terrain. They still plan to raise the funds for a fence themselves once a suitable location has been found.

“This is an ongoing collaborative process, and this isn’t something we want to work out on social media. [We want to] find the solution that works for the greatest number of people and one that helps reduce conflict,” said Saville.

When the meeting opened to public comment, one woman in the audience said she and her family opposed the dog park at the BARC site because altering the disc golf course would irreparably affect the game.

“It’s a really specialized sport. We can play for an hour and have a blast there. I’d be really sorry to see it changed in any way,” she said.

Supporters of a dog park were present as well. Islander Alison Poole shared that her mother-in-law uses a service dog and that healthy recreation is fundamental to the health of the animal.

“One of the things you do to counteract the kind of work they do is take them for free runs. When [the dog] is about 10 feet away she cannot see him, she cannot hear him, and dogs have been stolen in her area,” she said. “On this island, there are people who cannot see, who cannot walk, who are getting older. You cannot always put your dog on a leash and walk. People should realize the other side of this, that it isn’t just a nice thing to have, but essential sometimes, for people who need their companion animal.”

Saville and Vashon Unleashed have other destinations for a park to evaluate and are hoping to work with other groups on the island to help realize their vision.

“We’re just trying to stay focused on options and pursue one at a time, see where they go,” said Saville. “We got a lot of really supportive emails back, just like, ‘Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.’ Everyone wants to keep moving forward.”

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