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French Lake dog park divides neighbors and users

Bailey, a half-lab, half English pointer mix, takes a break to catch her breath after playing fetch at French Lake Park this past October. Bailey’s tongue was covered in grass after carrying a dirty ball in her mouth. Davina Mackenzie of Federal Way brings Bailey to the park once a day. - Mirror file photo
Bailey, a half-lab, half English pointer mix, takes a break to catch her breath after playing fetch at French Lake Park this past October. Bailey’s tongue was covered in grass after carrying a dirty ball in her mouth. Davina Mackenzie of Federal Way brings Bailey to the park once a day.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

The tension was thick in the air at City Hall last week during a meeting regarding French Lake Park.

The room was divided down the middle, with neighbors who are displeased with the park on one side and avid park users on the other. About 30 people attended the meeting, hosted by Federal Way. It was the second meeting called in an effort to resolve differences between the two groups and solve problems at the park.

The city will spend a total of nearly $20,000 to address concerns about the park, assistant city manager Cary Roe said.

French Lake Park, about 10 fenced acres near 1st Avenue South and South 320th Street, opened as an off-leash dog park in summer 2005. It is owned by Federal Way and the Lakehaven Utility District.

Neighbors who live near the dog park complain that it is noisy and dirty. Seven homes share a fence line with the park. Park users recently complained that the park is muddy, the parking lot is not secure and a pond in the park is contaminated.

Some improvements have already been made to the park as a result of the meetings. Five to six areas of the fence are being repaired to prevent dogs from escaping. City staff also cleared some vegetation near the parking lot to improve visibility from the park and prevent break-ins. A contractor will begin locking the gate at dusk to prevent late-night park dwellers from making noise and disturbing the neighbors. Options for cleaning the pond are being explored.

About $15,000 will be spent planting shrubs along the fence in the north end of the park to create a visual and sound barrier for neighbors there. The plants, which will probably include rhododendrons, Oregon grape, wild lilac and pink escallonia, will start out about three feet tall and are expected to grow to between six and eight feet within four years. They will grow in a 20-foot area between the homeowners' fences and the dog park fence.

The city will use volunteers and city staff for labor, Roe said. The planting could occur on April 18.

Kevin Morris, a member of the Park Pals group of volunteers, said the group will volunteer to help the city improve the park.

"Whatever it takes to pacify the neighbors other than taking the park away, we'll help them," Morris said.

Bill Moody, a neighbor whose yard shares a fence with the dog park, said he worries the shrubbery will not be enough.

"It'll muffle it. It's just like throwing smoke over it," he said.

Moody said the park once had playground equipment for the children, and neighbors used it for block parties. He's also noticed there is no longer wildlife in the park.

Moody and other neighbors said they would like to see the dog park moved to another location.

Roe declined to discuss moving the park, saying that topic should be brought to the Federal Way City Council.

JoAnn Hugill, president of the Park Pals volunteer group, said she was pleased to see the city mediating between the two groups.

"Dog owners love that park," she said. "Some of the neighbors kind of don't want us there, but we're staying."

Get involved

Kevin Morris of Park Pals, a group of volunteers that will help Federal Way improve French Lake Park, can be reached at chipizz@comcast.net or (253) 226-8949.

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