Finding space for Fido

The Kingfield Neighborhood Association and area dog owners are looking for a place to build a neighborhood dog park

KINGFIELD — When Marek Reiter was cited for having his yellow Lab mix, Ruby, off-leash at Martin Luther King Park last winter, he was faced with two options: pay a hefty fine or participate in a restorative-justice pilot program with the local neighborhood group.

He chose the latter and half a year later, he’s still working with the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA), even though he’s more than paid for his offense. That’s because what he’s been doing all these months is directly linked to what got him in trouble in the first place.

KFNA charged Reiter and others who had been cited for having their furry friends off-leash in the park with investigating the feasibility of a dog park somewhere in the neighborhood. The offenders researched, door-knocked and helped build an online survey to gather input.

What they found was overwhelming support for the idea, though no specific location or plans were proposed to residents. The outcome caused KFNA to get more involved in the effort and the group recently approached City Council members and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to see what needs to be done for a park to get built.

“There are some good dog parks in our city, but there is no park in our neighborhood,” Reiter said.

There is actually no dog park in all of Park District 6, which encompasses the majority of Southwest. The closest one is Lake of the Isles Off-Leash Recreation Area, which is in District 4.    

District 6 Commissioner Bob Fine said his is one of two districts throughout the city without a dog park — the other being District 2 in North Minneapolis. But that doesn’t mean the Park Board is ready to accept one with open arms, not at the heavily used park in Kingfield, anyway.

“We’d have to run through some kind of a hearing before the neighborhood to see what they think about it, but I know staff is not thrilled because they don’t think there’s enough room,” Fine said.

Alexander Zachary, Lakes District planner for the Park Board, said the idea shouldn’t even be negotiated. The park is already packed with amenities including a baseball field, swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, and a playground. Soccer is also played there. Finding space for a dog park is not possible, he said.

“It’s not going to happen,” Zachary said. “It’s not an appropriate spot for a dog park.”

KFNA isn’t pushing hard for space at the park yet, but project organizer Sarah Gleason said, from the research done so far, parkland seems like the best option. The neighborhood is still looking into the possibility of private or state-owned property, but those routes are more expensive and hard to find in the neighborhood, Gleason said.

The spot at Martin Luther King Park that seems most appropriate, she said, is a strip of land between the tennis courts and the sound wall, near the pedestrian bridge in the northeast corner of the park.   

Minneapolis Park Police Sgt. Fred McCormick said having a place dedicated for dogs to be off-leash in the area would probably reduce violations, which were a problem earlier this spring before warning signs were installed at the park. Many people were using the fenced-in baseball field as a dog park. McCormick said letting dogs run free jeopardizes the safety of park users and has the potential to create a mess.

Kingfield resident and park user Josh Brown, 19, said his Bichon Maltese, Jet, is well-behaved enough that he’s let him off leash at the park before, though he’s never been cited. Brown brings Jet to the park every day and he’s not a fan of the on-leash rule.

“I hate it because he doesn’t need one,” Brown said.

But he said he wouldn’t have to go against the law if the park had a space dedicated to dogs. He said he would “absolutely” support a dog park there.

“We’ve got a beautiful facility here,” he said.

Neighborhood resident Sarah Farley, 54, who cycled through the park with her family’s petite Labradoodle, Tadpole, on a recent Friday afternoon, said her 11-year-old daughter would love to use a dog park in the area. Farley, on the other hand, said she would rather cycle alongside her pet.

 “I personally don’t care about standing around watching the dog play,” she said.

Doug Kress, a Kingfield resident who works as a policy aide to City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), is involved with nonprofit dog park group Dog Grounds and said a facility in Kingfield would serve a number of purposes. He said it would give pets and their owners a spot to socialize, allow dogs to get the exercise they need and improve safety by getting more eyes on the park and reducing the chance for an off-leash incident.

Goodman, who serves on the Dog Grounds board, and a representative from City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden’s (8th Ward) office recently met with KFNA to discuss ideas.

Glidden said the neighborhood group would need to come up with a specific location, design and model for funding and maintenance.

Gleason said that’s what the neighborhood is doing now and it hopes to get a solid plan on the Park Board’s agenda in the near future.

Until then, Reiter will be walking Ruby on her leash around the neighborhood. And when it’s time for her to stretch her legs a bit, she’ll be loaded into the car for a trip to the nearest dog park.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.