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Park Pals group seeks city's help for beloved dog park
A hidden gem of Federal Way is French Lake Dog Park, one of the few off-leash dog parks in the region.
Created by a push from the non-profit group Park Pals, the park allows man, and man's best friend, a place to play and get outside in Federal Way.
According to a number of Park Pals members, the burden of much of the work for the dog park has fallen to their group, with the city taking a backseat approach to the maintenance of what still is a city park.
"This park is a vital part of our city and its people," said Park Pals board member Ben Pittman to the Federal Way City Council during the council's March 19 meeting. "This park needs to be a much bigger priority to this city because, as far as I can tell, this city doesn't think our dog park matters."
Pittman said he believes the park could become a liability to the city — if the city doesn't start taking a larger role in its maintenance. According to Pittman, the pond at the park has never been well kept, and has been a home to muck, insects and disease.
"(The pond) could be a great thing for this park, but instead it's simply a breeding ground for very nasty diseases, one of which my own dog contracted two years ago," he noted. "There are many safety concerns that have never been addressed, and if we are not careful, this city will start having lawsuits filed against it for lack of care, maintenance and attention to this, our only dog park."
Park Pals President JoAnn Hugill reiterated some of Pittman's points. She said Park Pals wants to keep the park in the best shape possible, but can only do so much as a small non-profit.
"It's a very pretty park. We want to keep it pretty. We had 22 volunteers two to three weeks ago helping clean it up, the branches from the wind storm, and pulling out the cattails from the pond," she said. "We do need some more help. I know there are budget cuts everywhere. We're on a budget too. We're non-profit."
While not a direct member of Park Pals, Federal Way Petco general manager Michael Jankowski said that as an owner of three dogs, and with the rising popularity of the park, everyone should try and make sure the park is well maintained.
"The park needs a lot of help, it really does…There's a lot of mud everywhere. Their (Park Pals') hands are tied, frankly. Everything they want to do, from my understanding is, there's red tape," he said. "Even if they're willing to pay for it, there's red tape."
Jankowski made an appeal to the city to either have the Parks Department play a greater role in the maintenance of the park, or to free Park Pals of the perceived bureaucratic red tape. And even though the park has been around a couple of years, Jankowski said he's noticing the community is realizing they have an off-leash dog park in their community.
"Just recently I was there on a weekend, and it was backed up trying to get a parking spot. It was full. People were waiting for parking spots to get into that park," he said. "It's getting packed, and it's not even summer time. They need your help, they really need your help. All the dog owners in Federal Way really need your help."
The city looks forward to further dialogue with Park Pals about priorities at French Lake dog park, said city spokesman Chris Carrel in an email to The Mirror.
"Throughout the young history of this park, the Parks Department has depended on and appreciated the work of volunteers, particularly Park Pals," Carrel wrote. "Without the commitment and energy of volunteers, it would be financially challenging to operate the dog park. We look forward to continuing our partnership that has provided this benefit to the community."
According to a list provided by Carrel, the following improvements have been made to the park:
• Repaired and secured perimeter fence
• Created 20-foot-wide planted buffer area along northern fence line
• Created separately fenced small dog area
• Installed fence around existing pond to restrict access when pond water quality is a concern
• Installed five pet stations for use by park patrons
• Resolved many drainage issues
• Installed donated drinking fountain for park patrons and dogs (provided material and labor and paid Lakehaven Utility District water fees)
• Installed park rule signs
According to Carrel, maintenance and operations by the city include:
• Test pond water on monthly basis to determine water quality
• Introduce potable drinking water to pond during summer and fall seasons to assist with water quality and pay Lakehaven water bill
• Mow turf biweekly during growing season
• Restoration of turf areas that have been worn down (soil, seed, fertilizer temporary fencing)
• Service pet stations three times per week in offseason and daily during peak season
• Provide soil so holes dug by dogs can be filled in
• Provide gravel for entry area and social paths
• Provide portable toilet year-round with weekly service
• Formally meet with Park Pals at least bi-annually (spring and fall)
• Meet with Park Pals informally on an as-needed basis (five to six times per year)
"As with all of our active parks, the Parks Department works to balance maintenance and improvement activities with the needs and demands across the entire parks system," Carrel told The Mirror, noting that the city reduced parks maintenance staff by four positions in the 2009-10 budget and also reduced the parks capital budget.
Established seven years ago, the off-leash area at French Lake Park is located on 1st Avenue South between South 320th Street and South 312th Street.
Park Pals is raising money to build a rain shelter at the park. Past projects include the installation of a doggie drinking fountain. To learn more about Park Pals, including information on upcoming events and fundraisers, visit http://parkpals.org or contact JoAnn Hugill at (253) 235-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.