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story.lead_photo.caption Charles Austin of Benton throws a ball for his dog, Casper, to fetch while attending the grand opening of the Bryant Bark Park on Oct. 14 at Alcoa 40 Park. The new dog park, at 1110 Shobe Road, has been open for a little more than a month, but thanks to the completion of the Bryant Parkway, the park is now more accessible to residents. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

When people think about the city of Bryant and its park system, most know about the athletic uses for the parks, said Chris Treat, parks director. But now, with the addition of the new Bark Park at the Alcoa 40 Park, a new segment of the population is being unleashed.

“Everything we put into this park will benefit a lot of different groups in the community,” he said.

“A lot of what we do surrounds youth sports,” Treat said, “but this offers something that serves a different part of the community that isn’t driven by youth sports and is helpful and important.”

The new Bryant Bark Park, at 1110 Shobe Road, hosted its grand opening Monday, but the park has been accessible for a little more than a month now.

“People have been using it,” he said. “We held our grand opening because we were waiting for the Bryant Parkway to be finished, because until then, access was limited.

“But we already had folks out there, and they seem very happy with it. It will continue to grow and be better as other amenities are added. When I’ve been out there, I’ve seen people having lunch and bringing their dogs — it is such a nice area.”

Treat said a dog park has been in the works since before he was parks director. He said the project went into different stages, including design and creative, and “got pretty expensive several years ago.”

“There were some fundraising efforts, but there were not enough funds for the park,” Treat said. “When Allen Scott was elected mayor, he told me and Tricia Powers, the animal-control director, to put together a plan and present it to the City Council.

“So we worked on a design at a new place, and as part of our Phase I, the council gave us the money to demo an old softball field out there and put in the fencing, the signage, water fountains — that sort of thing.”

Powers said dog parks are beneficial to both dogs and people.

“They provide a means of socialization, vitally important for isolated dogs or those that live in one-dog households, as well as provide a social atmosphere for pet owners to meet and discuss common interests,” Powers said. “For dogs living in apartments or homes with small yards, the dog park allows for exercise off-leash.”

Powers said the most important piece of advice she can offer those who are new to the dog-park experience is to remember that the park is created for your dog.

“If they don’t like the park, are being picked on by a dog or are fearful, don’t feel bad about leaving and returning at another time,” she said. “Some dogs don’t like dog parks. Some dogs, like people, just clash, and it’s perfectly OK for you to leave early and return later on.

“Avoiding a conflict before it leads to an injury is the most important thing.”

Treat said the original plan for the park would have cost up to $400,000 and was not very practical. He said this park was built for $40,000.

“We’ve got water fountains, picnic tables and small-dog and large-dog areas,” Treat said. “We have designed it in such a way that some of the park is very well shaded. There is one hill where we are going to put some nice stones or stairs down it.

“The dog park is very well located, in front of the Alcoa 40 Park, in a pretty area. There is a Dog Park Committee that has some of the funds that were originally raised, so we plan to add some different toys and amenities to the park down the road.”

The park is open to all breeds of dogs, with the exception of aggressive dogs, dogs in heat, sick or injured dogs, or puppies younger than 4 months. Treat said any dog bigger than 25 pounds is considered a large-dog breed.

“Dogs with regular access to dog parks are less likely to have aggression issues, as they are used to meeting new dogs and new people,” Powers said. “They are also less likely to act out from boredom because they are having their exercise needs met.”

Powers said the goal for visitors of the park is positive experiences for all the dogs.

“We sincerely appreciate all the community support while we were working to build the park. Special thanks to the Dog Park Committee members and all those who gave so generously so we could build this park,” Powers said.

“There is a community of dog lovers in Bryant who have been wanting to see this happen and really use this as a place to connect, share information and build relationships,” Treat said.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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