OLYMPIA - Dozens of people stood in Sunrise Park holding leashes. But they weren't attached to anything.
Instead, their dogs were running free in Thurston County’s first off-leash dog park, which opened to applause and barking Friday afternoon.
About 50 dogs ran around the park, at 505 Bing St. N.W., which is separated into fenced areas for big dogs, and small or shy dogs. The dogs got into minor skirmishes – barking, mostly – early on to establish a pecking order but calmed down and were peaceful thereafter.
Olympia budgeted $80,000 to build the dog area, about 1 acre on a gentle slope that includes trees and a walking path. It is entered through two gates. Dog owners enter one gate with their dogs; they can’t enter the next gate unless the first one is closed. That keeps dogs from escaping.
“It’s really fabulous,” said Elisa Lyles of Olympia, who brought her dog, Keiko, to the park. “It’s a beautiful landscape, not just flat and bland, but it’s built for the people, too.”
There’s a water supply for humans and canines, and bags for picking up doggie waste.
The park has been long-sought dream for Lynn Scroggins of Sound Hounds, a group that began pushing for local dog parks about five years ago. The city created a feasibility study in 2006 that suggested adding two dog parks. It sat on a shelf for years because the parks were not a priority for funding.
“When we discovered dog parks and then we discovered there weren’t any dog parks (here), I just knew that if you wanted to make something happen, you needed to organize,” Scroggins said.
City Councilwoman Rhenda Strub made the park a priority before she was elected in 2008. Building the park was put on the council’s top-priority list in 2009, and the city ceremonially broke ground on it last October.
“When I ran for election, I said I wanted to do three big things and one little thing,” she said. She wanted to pursue downtown housing, a new City Hall and a new fire station. The dog park took the longest, she said.
Thurston County plans to open the county’s second dog park Oct. 29, said Linda Oestreich, director of Olympia’s parks department. The park will occupy about 5 acres of the old dump off Hogum Bay Road.
Dog park supporters say the park has several benefits – for humans and dogs.
The park socializes dogs. That makes them less likely to be frightened when confronted with an unfamiliar situation, said Susanne Beauregard, director of Thurston County Animal Services.
“Socialized dogs are good for this community,” she said.
Scroggins said it’s a great place for people to socialize, too. She said the City of Sequim claims two marriages sprung from its park.
“It’s cool,” said Chuck Springer of Lacey, who accompanied Sheila and their two dogs, Dutchess and Naku. “It was a long time coming.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org