King County drops Wax Orchard from off-leash dog park search

County says the search for a dog park location will continue

King County has dropped Wax Orchard, a sweeping property of vast meadow and trails in the heart of the island, from considerations for a future off-leash fenced dog park.

The announcement came March 20. In an email, a King County Parks spokesperson said the decision came after careful consideration, site assessment, and many public comments and questions about using the location — including parking concerns and public response against using part of the site as a dog park.

The Friends Into Dogs Organization (FIDO) suggested siting a one-to-three acre dog park on Wax Orchard, a 110-acre property, last year — following the county’s purchase of the property in 2022. Since then, community members have argued for and against the site’s viability.

The Parks department now “has decided to look for another site to meet this community need,” according to a statement March 20.

“One finding of the evaluation by the County road engineer was that the existing shoulder parking along Old Mill Road was not adequate to support the potential sustained use increase associated with a dog park due to the narrow shoulder, public safety concerns, and pavement conditions,” the statement read. “There was also a high level of community interest, and most public input received in recent months preferred that a fenced off-leash dog area be located at a different site.”

The announcement means the search for an off-leash dog park on the island, long led by local advocates and with the Vashon Island Parks District and King County Parks as essential partners, continues.

“We remain committed to finding an appropriate Vashon Island location for a fenced area where dogs can be off leash,” the parks statement reads. “The community can help with this by sharing ideas for potential locations with King County Parks.”

Previously, King County officials saw the site as one of the better options for a pilot off-leash dog park on the island: “We continue to believe that Wax Orchard is the most suitable place within our King County network of parks on the island for a dog park,” Joe Inslee, a project manager at King County Parks, said in January.

On March 25, King County spokesperson Eleanor Lee said that Inslee’s statement was still true: “Within our current properties, it had the most potential,” Lee explained. “However, further analysis, including by County roads engineer, determined it would not be feasible. So now the search continues, and we have to explore future acquisitions or partnerships.”

The Beachcomber reached out to FIDO, which declined to comment on the development last week.

“We are very relieved,” said Jil Stenn, founder of Friends of Wax Orchards Park, a community group organized in opposition to the placing of the pilot off-leash dog park at Wax Orchard. “We’re kind of over the moon.”

Beth Lindsay, a member of the group’s steering committee, said they’d been told by King County that an announcement about the dog park proposal at Wax Orchard would likely come in April. The early news came as a welcome surprise.

Around 200 people signed on to an open letter from Friends of Wax Orchards Park this spring that advocated against establishing the dog park there.

While they don’t believe Wax Orchard is an appropriate location, “we absolutely support (FIDO) in finding a more appropriate place” for an off-leash dog park, Lindsay said.

Vashon Park District Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said the news came as a surprise to her.

“It’s not for me to agree or disagree with the decision, as I have not been privy to the community feedback or survey results they received, and I do not know what goes into a road evaluation for parking,” she said in an email. “The news is most definitely disappointing.”

Nonetheless, the Vashon Park District is committed to aiding in the search for a viable fenced, off-leash dog park, Ott-Rocheford said, and will continue to support King County Park’s efforts.

Were it to come to fruition, an island off-leash dog park would be the first of its kind on Vashon and only the second in unincorporated King County.

In January, county park officials met with 10 constituents at the Wax Orchard site, where they discussed how to create a dog park in a way that would address concerns including potential impacts to groundwater and a nearby freshwater pond and potential conflicts with equestrian users of the property.

In a survey distributed to islanders about a dog park at the site, 66 percent agreed or strongly agreed with that usage, while 23 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. Critics of the idea argued a dog park would mar the property, could harm the environment, and could pose safety concerns for other users, especially equestrians.

Long used by equestrians and neighbors, Wax Orchard includes four miles of trails through 63 acres of forests. Another 47 acres is formerly farmed pasture. One trail skirts Ernst Pond, named after Frank Ernst, who farmed a portion of the land for decades before selling it to Stewart.

Suggestions for potential fenced, off-leash dog park locations can be shared by emailing

Though it was formed in response to the dog park proposal, the Friends of Wax Orchard Park group will continue, Stenn and Lindsay said, as a vehicle to advocate for the best uses of the park and to communicate with King County.

“The windfall of our efforts is that we’ve created this really wonderful community that will help to steward the park now,” Stenn said.

The group can be contacted at