Seeing the gate for Eau Claire’s newest dog park, Emma, a 1-year-old cream-colored golden retriever, pulled her owner, Paul Del Torto, across Sundet Neighborhood Park.
“She loves, loves to play,” said Anita Boehm, Del Torto’s significant other, of Emma, who often visits the city’s longtime off-leash park on the south side daily. “She meets every dog out there.”
Thursday was no exception as Emma raced around the new park, stopping to sniff the three other dogs who attended the city’s official ribbon-cutting for the park on the north side.
“There has always been a great need for another dog park in the community,” said Jeff Pippenger, the city’s community services director. “This opportunity came up rather quickly, and it’s a way of providing a needed amenity in the city of Eau Claire.”
The city’s first dog park at 4503 House Road opened in April 2004, and Eau Claire resident Pat Williams has been asking for a north side park since then.
“It’s just an absolute success on the south side of town,” said Williams, accompanied by her greyhound, Kobe. “As an older person, I couldn’t have a dog without a dog park.”
Standing between Pippenger and City Manager Dale Peters, she cut the ribbon officially opening the park.
“It’s a great thing,” said Williams of the new park. “I’m happy — for awhile.”
The new dog park, south of Sundet Road and east of Robin Road, totals 9.2 acres of open and wooded land east of the Sundet Neighborhood Park shelter and playground. Of that acreage, 1 acre is enclosed for small dogs. A trail has been cut into the 8.2-acre section of the park.
“There’s a lot of dogs (in Eau Claire and the surrounding areas), and they need their exercise too,” said Pippenger, also a dog owner.
The entire cost of the project, which also includes a watering station in the shape of a fire hydrant, was $87,000, Pippenger said. Of that, the largest expense was expanding the park’s parking lot. All of the funding came from the daily and annual fees paid by users of the south-side off-leash park.
“People are excited about it,” said Rayma Donohue, who visits the south side dog park three to five times a week with her 13-year-old golden-Labrador mix, Fran.
“She loves to go to the park,” Donohue said of the former service dog, who eagerly sniffed the north side park’s surroundings and greeted those attending the ribbon-cutting. “She runs and plays with her friends.”
Having the north side park is much more convenient for Donohue, Del Torto and Boehm, they said.
Terry Weld, an Eau Claire city councilman, attended the ribbon-cutting and thanked Pippenger and other city staff involved in the project.
“We enjoy building a new park, and it’s nice to have this on the north side,” Weld said. “I’m not a dog owner, … but it’s fun to watch how excited (the dogs) are.”
Dogs help build neighborhoods, said Peters, also a dog lover. “When you walk dogs, you meet people, and when you connect with people, that’s how we create a great community.”
The city is planning to build a third dog park next year on space east of Ferry Street on the bank of the Chippewa River near the wastewater treatment plant, said Pippenger, noting the city has secured more than $200,000 in grant funding for the projects.
“When we become a pet-friendly city, we are a better place to live,” Peters said.