This week the Hugh Rogers Wag Park in Whitefish was featured in USA Today as one of the 10 best dog parks in the country.
Founded east of downtown in 2009, the five-acre off-leash public park is a pet’s paradise, featuring open space, an obstacle course, walking paths and even a drinking fountain for dogs.
“It’s always clean and well-kept. The commitment there is very strong,” Becca Barnett of BringFido.com, a website dedicated to pet-friendly places, told USA Today.
The national accolade is serving as further inspiration for separate groups in Kalispell and Columbia Falls that are trying to rally resources and awareness for similar off-leash parks.
In Kalispell, a steering committee of volunteers is spearheading the development of an off-leash site where pet owners can gather and let their four-legged friends roam free. Pets must be kept on a leash in all public parks in Kalispell.
According to Chris Carter, who is helping lead the effort alongside her fellow volunteers, Kalispell is ready for its own dog park. The group is raising community support through fundraisers and donations for the Paws to Play Dog Park.
City officials agree, and the Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department has given the initial thumbs up to explore a place where a fenced-in park could be established. The Flathead Community Foundation has also teamed up with the group and is helping raise funds.
The group of volunteers includes four women who are longtime dog owners, including Jane Nelson-Ott, who has owned a dog since she was 9. She and her husband have a golden retriever named Willow.
“I would like to see a place where I can take her and turn her loose and let her run and be happy,” Nelson-Ott said.
The same goes for Alison Megahan, who would like a place to socialize with her little Dachshund Ole and other pet owners.
“I like to be outside and go running with my dog,” she said. “And I would love to have a place where I can do that and meet other people and dogs. I think it’s a good community project. I haven’t heard anything negative. Every one is very supportive of the idea.”
The group is exploring potential sites for the park and raising funds for possible land acquisition and amenities at the park.
May 5 is Give Local America, a national fundraising day set aside for nonprofit organizations, and the dog park is part of the Flathead Community Foundation’s lineup of available groups that can receive donations during the 24-hour online fundraising event.
A fundraiser is planned for May 20 at the MacKenzie River restaurants in Kalispell. A portion of the proceeds from meals that night will go toward the park. Another fundraiser is planned for Aug. 5 at Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside. A portion of proceeds from pints sold will go toward the park.
The group will meet this week to decide other fundraising efforts and community events to raise awareness.
“We’re looking forward to the day when they can play off a leash together,” said Diane Bokor, a volunteer member of the steering committee who has a papillon named Roscoe.
In Columbia Falls, a similar effort is underway involving community members who are eager to set aside a friendly place where dogs can play off leash. City officials sent out a community survey last year seeking input on future projects for Columbia Falls and a resounding message was that people wanted a dog park similar to Whitefish’s.
The Columbia Falls City Council has already agreed to provide $10,000 for a park. But city officials wanted the project to be driven by the community, so a group of volunteers is leading the way and rallying support. A public meeting is planned for later this month to gather ideas and proposals for the future site.
Jenny Lovering, a city councilor and community member helping explore the creation of a dog park, said it’s likely that the park would be located on city property.
Both projects have the benefit of seeing how Whitefish created its popular park and learning from its organizers. The Wag Park involved four years of planning and collaborating with the community before the valley’s first off-leash site was established in the Armory Park complex. The nonprofit Whitefish Animal Group led the effort to locate the best available space, raise funds and create the design, and now the city owns and maintains the beloved space, which continues to grow with amenities.
“A lot of us take our dogs over to Whitefish and I think even if all three cities have a dog park it wouldn’t be an overload,” Lovering said. “There are a lot of dogs in this valley.”
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