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Neighbors seek solutions for French Lake dog park

French Lake dog park is a blessing to some and a headache to others — but both sides came together Dec. 8 to brainstorm ways to improve the open space.

At a meeting, neighboring residents and users of French Lake dog park, 31531 1st Ave. S., discussed prominent concerns, such as noise coming from the park, an inadequate fence, hours of operation, available dry ground space and public safety. City staff promised to hear all concerns and try its best to rectify the issues.

Ongoing noise at the north end of the park is a primary problem for homeowners there. Barking dogs, whistling, yelling and laughter are constant reminders of the park's proximity to residential housing, members of the crowd said. While the park's visitors come for an hour or two, then leave for their homes, those living close to the dog park rarely get a moment of silence, property owner Michelle Dupuis said.

"It's constant noise for us," she said. "We don't get to escape it. We're frustrated."

A faulty fence poses another problem. The chain-link enclosure around the 10-acre park is in need of repair in several areas, the crowd said. Dog owners expressed worry over their animals slipping under or through the fence. Homeowners are worried about finding escaped dogs in their backyards.

"We thought we had addressed that issue already, but we'll go back out and revisit that," parks and facilities manager Steve Ikerd said.

Assistant City Manager Cary Roe suggested erecting a second fence between the park's chain-link and the homeowners' fences, installing slats in the homeowners' fences so as to create a solid surface, or constructing a concrete or cinder block barrier that emerges from the ground a few feet, as ways to keep the animals in the park. Shrubbery could act as a physical and sound barrier.

"We are going to strengthen, redo the fence, whatever we need to do to fix that fence," Roe said. "We're committed."

The city also expects to decrease noise and eliminate some privacy issues by rigorously enforcing the park's hours of operation. The hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May through August, and 7 a.m. to dusk September through April. But the area is used at all times, members of the crowd said. Roe suggested locking the gate after hours.

Those visiting the park are most concerned about its usability and safety. In March, the east side of the park was fenced off to allow for turf restoration. Increased use of the west side — owned by Lakehaven Utility District — combined with Lakehaven emptying water irrigation vaults in this part of the park made for a wet and muddy arena.

"I went back there about a month ago and it was a sloppy mess," neighbor Kalyn Neils said.

Last week, the city reopened the east side. Roe indicated in the future, the city may fence off individual over-used grass areas until the turf has returned. He also discussed the city's decision to fence off a pond located within the park. The water fostered blue algae in late summer. Access was restricted to protect dogs and their owners, Roe said. Water samples were taken during this time. The toxin levels have returned to normal and the pond was opened for use Dec. 3. In the future, the city may introduce higher water levels or air as a means for circulating the standing pond water, Roe said.

Another safety measure the city will take on is that of vehicle prowls, Roe said. Sightlines into the area have been improved and parking lot lights will be checked for their luminosity, he said. Police may be asked to patrol the area more often.

"The biggest thing here is making sure our park users and dogs are safe," Roe said.

Another meeting is expected in mid-January.

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