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Work on Howe Farm finished — just about

At Howe Farm County Park, visitors can now enjoy a new off-leash dog area and recently completed parking lot.

The restrooms, however, will have to wait for spring.

“Those are closed for the winter,” said Brian Hauschel, a maintenance supervisor with Kitsap County’s Facilities, Parks and Recreation Department, explaining that the county typically closes restroom facilities during the winter months.

The park, which is particularly popular with dog owners, has been closed since the first week of September to give crews time to build the new amenities.

More than a year ago, county crews and volunteers began intermittent work in the park, putting in sections of fencing and improving the condition of the trails.

“The work is now 95 percent complete,” Hauschel said, adding that progress has stopped “due to the weather. We are going to hold off for the rest until the soils dry out.”

The plan to build a formal off-leash area in the park — previously, numerous users were known to let their dogs roam despite regulations forbidding the practice — was approved by the Kitsap County commissioners on Monday nearly two years ago after many long and contentious public meetings.

Hauschel said he was not sure when the official grand opening of the park would be scheduled by the commissioners, but, “I imagine they’ll do it pretty quick.”

As for a proposal by the South Kitsap School District and the Washington State University Extension’s Master Gardeners’ program to create outdoor agricultural and horticultural classrooms, Hauschel said the plan has yet to be officially approved by the commissioners.

“It has just now been submitted,” he said, explaining that the groups involved have been revising the proposal since the basic outline was created and approved by the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously last February.

Exactly who can use the 83-acre Howe Farm and for what purpose has been the subject of long and often heated debates since the county purchased the land in 1996, since many ideas for the park’s future were not always compatible, such as creating a working demonstration farm, restoring the wetlands and other habitats, or simply leaving it as is.

The commissioners appointed a Howe Farm Stewardship Committee of volunteers to develop a management plan that would best retain the park’s agricultural, historical and natural resources values, while also incorporating additional public uses such as an off-leash dog area.

The master plan was approved in 2000 and included a preference for multiple uses — continuation of the traditional farming practices, stream and wetland enhancement and other public activities.

Thomas Mosby, who serves as director of South Kitsap High School’s Career and Technical Education Department and presented the school district’s portion of the plan to the parks board, said he believed the proposal by SKSD and other local educators fit perfectly with the master plan created for the park.

“We see this as a real win-win situation for students and the community of Kitsap County,” Mosby said. “It is a collective effort that embraces all ideas for uses of Howe Farm.”

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