Almost a year after Conway won $25,000 in a contest for a dog park, the city will contribute the other half to make it happen.
The Conway City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $25,000 from Advertising and Promotion funds to match the $25,000 the city won in July 2013 in the online Bark for Your Park PetSafe contest.
Steve Ibbotson, director of the Conway Parks and Recreation Department, said the park will be created on almost 4 acres on the south side of the Don Owen Recreation Complex on Lower Ridge Road.
Ibbotson said he has met with Friends of the Conway Dog Park committee about what they envision.
“They want to leave it as natural as possible. We’ll do some improvement on the grounds, and then we’ll get the fence in, the water line in, and then we’ll be ready to go,” Ibbotson said, “[along with] some site amenities,” he added, including benches and waste stations.
It will be divided by a fence to provide separate areas for large and small dogs, he said.
The fencing is a major expense of the project, and prices are coming in “a little bit higher” than $25,000, he said.
Ibbotson said he wasn’t surprised by the council’s vote. The council had to give approval initially for Conway to be considered as a potential site in the contest, he said.
“Half of the cost was covered, so it’s almost like getting a grant,” Ibbotson said.
He said he doesn’t have an estimated completion date for the park.
“I really don’t have any time projections on it right now. Our biggest job right now is to bring the water over there to it. We might do that before we start anything else. We’ll do most of that in-house,” he said.
Ibbotson said the first challenge will be “finding time to free our guys up. We’re so far behind right now out in the parks. We couldn’t mow because of the rain.”
He said the department had planned to borrow equipment from Faulkner County to move dirt for the dog park, but the county’s equipment is being used to clean up debris from the April 27 tornado.
“We’ve got smaller equipment; it will just take longer to get that done,” Ibbotson said.
Ibbotson said the dog-park project is something he was interested in soon after he took the job at the end of 2010.
“A city this large, I felt there was a need there, and I knew they had been looking at one previously,” he said.
Although he doesn’t have a dog now, Ibbotson said, he used to raise Labradors.
Marjorie Warren of Enola, who volunteers for Companions Thrift Shop, which is operated by the Humane Society of Faulkner County, said she thinks the park is a great idea.
“I know definitely that I would use it,” she said. “I have rescue dogs, and I would take mine there for walks. I think it’s something we need desperately.”
Warren said that even though she lives in Enola, she shops in Conway and comes to the city often. She said her husband has commented that he wished there was a place to take their dogs to socialize, “so this is perfect.”
Dog lovers have Judi Standridge of Conway to thank for getting the project going.
Standridge, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Faulkner County, said the idea of having a dog park in Conway has been talked about for years.
“Going back 10 or more years, I’ve been involved with different groups wanting to get involved with a dog park, and [the ideas] all fell apart,” she said.
She said members of rescue groups invited her to a meeting in 2013 with city officials, including Ibbotson; Jack Bell, the city’s chief of staff; and Mark Ledbetter, a city council member.
“I was surprised to learn there wasn’t any funding for it,” Standridge said.
“They said, ‘We’d love to work with you guys, but we have to have some money,’” Standridge said. “‘You’ve got to bring some money to the table’ was exactly what they said. After that, she said, the city’s proposed contribution was referred to as “an anonymous donor.”
“I went home that night, and I remembered there was a contest,” Standridge said. “It was perfect timing because it was two weeks before the contest started.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would be so labor intensive. It was every day, all day, trying to get the word out, trying to get people to vote.
“I entered, as any citizen could enter. Through the Humane Society, we already had about 5,000 fans on Facebook, and … it went great. It was the most amazing community involvement I’ve seen.”
Standridge compared it to the vote in 2009 for Kris Allen of Conway, who won on American Idol.
Now, the city has $50,000 for the project, which was the goal.
“That’s good news,” she said.
“I have priced things from the benches to the water and all that, and people just don’t realize how much it takes, especially contracting out labor and digging for water and electricity,” Standridge said.
“We didn’t get the big prize, but it’s as far as we’ve ever gotten,” she said. The grand prize was $100,000.
Standridge said PetSafe didn’t send the $25,000 check for at least six months, and it went to the city.
“We were in charge of the contest, and now the city and parks and recreation are in charge of the construction. It was two separate things — the contest to get the money, and the construction.
“We would like to help in any way we can,” she emphasized, but it’s not a Humane Society of Faulkner County project. Friends of the Conway Dog Park is a committee of that nonprofit organization, she said.
“Really, the biggest thing we would like to see, and why we think it’s so important — it would be a really good place to educate people about animal-welfare issues and hold events,” such as adoptions, she said. “We always say ‘adopt, don’t shop’” for your pet.
Standridge said she had been traveling to Burns Park Dog Park in North Little Rock with her dogs and foster dogs.
“It’s a good way to assess foster dogs,” she said of a dog park.
“For the general public, they say a dog is much more well-behaved when it’s exercised, and it does cut down on surrender to shelters,” she said.
Rules for the dog park will be developed by the committee and Conway Animal Control representatives, Ibbotson said.
Standridge said she has been collecting rules at dog parks in Arkansas, as well as other states.
“Through our meetings with the city, we did decide there would not be any breed restrictions,” she said. “Of course, we will not allow any aggressive dogs, but we’re not going to say no pit bulls, no German shepherds … or whatever. Every dog, as long as they’re friendly, will be able to come in there.
“We certainly would love to be involved with the planning part, but [Ibbotson] has more experience, … and we’re here to help in any way.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.