Squirrel lovers protest proposed Loring Park dog park

Think of the squirrels.

A small group of protesters spoke against a proposed off-leash dog area in Loring Park on behalf of the voiceless population they said would be affected most.

They're not rats with furry tails; they're precious wildlife, they told the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board in essays and poems.

Timothy Lamb, who lives four blocks south of the park, displayed a photo to the board of a cluster of nesting squirrels huddled in a tree on the north edge of the park.

&#8220This is nature at its best,” Lamb said, and &#8220those animals will not be there” if the dog area is built.

In the end, though, it was confusion - not cute rodents- that led the Park Board's planning committee to reject an off-leash dog area idea last week.

The vote came in two parts.

After a public hearing, the four-member committee voted 3-1 to change the Loring Park master plan to include an off-leash dog area as an appropriate use.

The same board members then voted against a specific plan for a dog area developed by a nonprofit that would pay for building it and any costs not covered by user fees, according to Park Board staff.

Commissioner Carol Kummer, who voted for changing the master plan but against the dog area as it was proposed, said she voted the way she did because she didn't have enough details.

&#8220It's not in my district, and nobody has called me except the opponents,” Kummer said. &#8220I've only been hearing about it second hand. There was no supporting information whatsoever.”

Kummer said she would have liked to have seen images of what the dog area would look like after regular wear and tear.

&#8220You can do some pretty fancy projections with computers,” Kummer said. &#8220I know what it looks like down at Minnehaha where there's a dog park. It pretty much gets trashed.”

She also cited confusion over whether the planning committee could advance the dog area plan before the full Park Board OK'd the committee's change to the Loring Park master plan.

Doug Kress, an aide to City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), said it's unfortunate if committee members felt they didn't have enough information about the proposal. A detailed presentation was given to the committee at its Sept. 20 meeting, he said.

&#8220We already presented once to them, and it was offered again the other night and they said no,” Kress said.

Goodman supports creating a dog area Downtown and helped make the pitch to the Park Board. Kress said they were waiting for advice on whether to resubmit the plan or appeal the vote.

&#8220I don't believe I heard any negative comments about the need for a Downtown dog area,” Kress said.

A committee studied the location and concluded the northwest corner of the park would be the best location because it was out of the way and wouldn't interrupt other park activities.

The dog area would take up about 12,000 square feet on the north end of Loring Park. A wrought-iron fence would look similar to fence in the rest of the park, though the spindles will be closer together to keep smaller dogs from slipping out. It would not involve removing any trees.

&#8220It's clear that (Park Board members) don't understand what's being proposed,” said Ray Harris, a member of the committee that's been studying the dog area.

Harris said he's still optimistic about the project despite the park committee's actions.

&#8220I think there's ultimately support for the dog park,” he said. &#8220We can't build it until spring anyway, so this is just a process they're going through.”

Dan Haugen can be reached at [email protected] or 436-5088.