A campaign for canines

Supporters of a Kingfield dog park plan to submit a proposal soon to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

KINGFIELD — After more than a year of planning and gathering support, dog owners pushing for an off-leash area at Martin Luther King Park are getting ready to submit a proposal to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The effort began after a handful of park users cited for having their pets off-leash took part in a restorative justice pilot program with the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA), which charged them with researching the possibility of a neighborhood dog park. They researched sites, door knocked, surveyed residents and eventually grew into a task force of the neighborhood organization.

The task force planned to use feedback from a community meeting April 27 to help shape its proposal, expected to go to the Park Board this month.  

“There is no dog park within walking distance of this area at all,” said dog park supporter Ben Harris, who lives in the Bryant neighborhood just across Interstate 35W from Martin Luther King Park. “But there’s a really high density of dog owners in Southwest Minneapolis.”

Park District 6, which encompasses the bulk of the region south of Lake Street, has 1,464 licensed dogs this year, according to information compiled by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. That’s second only to District 5 in southeast Minneapolis, which has 1,649 registered pooches.

But District 6 is one of only two districts citywide without a dog park. The other is District 2 in north Minneapolis.  

“I think it’s in part an inequity issue when you look at resources throughout the city,” said new District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn.

Bourn, who organized the April 27 community discussion, said he thought Martin Luther King Park would be a good candidate for a dog park and he planned to explore it more. He said that area of the district in particular has a higher concentration of renters who don’t have yards or nearby access to off-leash areas for their pets.

The biggest challenge for the financially strapped Park Board would be finding a way to fund the project, but Bourn said ballpark figures show an upfront cost under $40,000, which he said is nominal. Community fundraising could help.

“Between some sort of commitment from the Park Board and some sort of commitment from Kingfield, I think we can make it happen,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic about it.”

But Lakes District planner Alexander Zachary said long-term maintenance costs also need to be considered, and there are other challenges. The park is already packed with amenities including tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, a playground, a swimming pool and a basketball court. Finding space for a dog park and the additional parking it would require could be tough, he said, and the project would need buy-in from all park users.  

The proposed off-leash area would stretch along the freeway sound wall and include separate areas for large and small dogs. A new bike path stretching north to south in that space might have to be removed to accommodate the new facility, Zachary said.

Prior to the adoption of the Park Board’s comprehensive plan in 2007, it planned to develop a dog park in each park district, but Zachary said that went along with the city’s outdated every-amenity-in-every-park mindset.

“That’s just something that we can’t sustain,” he said. “We can’t sustain that as an organization and there’s not necessarily that need. I feel that everything done prior to the 2007 comprehensive plan, which is incredibly detailed, needs to be evaluated and looked at.”

Dog park supporters said they’re aware of the roadblocks, but are willing to fundraise and volunteer to make the project happen. They said it would make use of largely unused space, bring more positive activity to the park, reduce crime and provide an area for dogs to exercise and socialize.

To show their commitment to the park and raise awareness of their effort, dog park advocates organized a park cleanup with their furry companions April 17. More than a dozen dog owners and their pets participated.

Kingfield resident Wade Keller took part in the cleanup with his boxer-lab mix, Nikita. He said he frequently uses dog parks that are only within driving distance and he’s tired of loading his pet in the car for off-leash fun. And he said a neighborhood dog park wouldn’t just benefit the dogs.

“I see a lot of people out walking their dogs in this area and, you know, we could just stop for a minute and get to know more people and have a spot where we could stand and talk and build a sense of community,” he said.   

Neighborhood resident Mary Vanderford, who lives across the street from Martin Luther King Park, said she would be at the off-leash area with her yellow lab, Rosie, every day.

“We know it’s a big process to work with the Park Board and go through channels,” she said while out with her dog during the cleanup event. “But working together, we hope we’ll come up with something that works for the park and all the users, plus the dog lovers.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or 
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