News

Off-leash park stays

By PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

For nearly the past year, French Lake Park has been a place for dogs to run off their leashes, and the Federal Way Parks Commission wants it to stay that way.

The commission voted unanimously June 1 to recommend the park be used as an off-leash dog park on a permanent basis.

The Federal Way City Council had approved a one-year trial period for the off-leash dog park along First Avenue South this past July.

Interim City Manager Derek Matheson said the city had initially recommended the trial period be extended by another year or two to research costs involved and determine whether a different location would be better for a permanent off-leash site.

Instead, the commission’s recommendation for a permanent off-leash dog park will be discussed by the parks, recreation and public safety committee before going before the full council.

Matheson said the council could discuss the issue in late July or early August.

Kevin Morris, a frequent park user, said he and other park users were concerned about the recommendation for a longer trial period.

“That’s somewhat deflating to the people that put forth that effort,” Morris said.

Park users, he said, have volunteered to maintain the 10-acre site, helping to address concerns of safety, excessive animal feces and overuse.

“We feel like we’ve allayed all those concerns and then some,” he said. “We feel pretty good about it. It could have been worse and I don’t see how it could have been any better.”

Despite the commission’s recommendation, Morris said he knows their work isn’t done.

“Obviously, it was good news for us. That’s just the first hurdle, though,” he said. “We’re happy with it for sure, but we’re not going to be complacent about it.”

Matheson said he was impressed with the devotion shown by park volunteers.

“I’ve been pleased with how much the users of the park have stepped up and given their time and money,” he said.

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Donna Hanson said in her experience, and from what she’s heard from other communities, users of off-leash dog parks are often a very involved group.

She called the trial period a successful demonstration of the necessity for such an area.

“It’s clearly a need,” she said, adding there has been little, if any, in the way of opposition to the park.

Hanson also said there may be indications of overuse at the park, which could signal the need for an additional off-leash park in the area.

The most overused area at the park is located right at the entrance, where many park visitors congregate to keep an eye on their vehicles, Morris said.

Issues with the sprinkler system and an overly wet winter also helped wear down the area, he said.

In response, volunteers helped section off the area for a grass reseeding effort, a move Morris said has encouraged visitors to explore and begin using the rest of the park.

“It hasn’t reached a saturation point,” he said.

Determining overuse of a park involves knowing exactly how people are using the park, not just how many people are there, he added.

Still, Morris said he’s not against a second park in the area.

“Yes, there’s definitely room for a second dog park,” he said. “We would welcome that.”

Council member Jeanne Burbidge, who heads the city’s Parks, Recreation and Public Safety Committee, also spoke in favor of the off-leash park.

“It’s certainly clear to me that this is a very good use for the park,” she said.

There are still some unanswered questions the city must deal with, she added, including how to work with the Lakehaven Utility District.

The utility district owns portions of the park property and operates an irrigation system in the park.

Burbidge also said the city will have to consider what to do with the ponds in the park, which may need to be cleaned up.

Overall, Burbidge praised the work of volunteers who have helped maintain the park and have worked with the city to suggest improvements.

“It’s really been a great group of people,” she said.

Although she can’t predict what the committee or the full council will ultimately decide, continuation of the off-leash park seems likely.

“I would be very surprised if the use of French Lake Park as an off-leash park is discontinued,” she said.

Staff writer Philip Palermo: 253-925-5565 or ppalermo@fedwaymirror.com

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