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Public pounces on Howe Farm plan

With 83 acres to work with, the possibilities for carving out an off-leash area for dogs in Howe Farm County Park are nearly endless. And not surprisingly, so are the opinions about where — and especially how big — that area should be.

Chris Gears, Kitsap County’s director of Facilities, Parks and Recreation, learned the variety and veracity of those opinions firsthand while hosting a public meeting last week to discuss potential concepts for a dog activity area in the former family farm that hugs Mile Hill Drive and Long Lake Road.

“The (Kitsap County) commissioners are acutely aware of the interest in this area,” Gears said, explaining that both general uses for the area — a historical farm and off-leash area — are embraced by the commissioners. “They are very interested in finding a way to allow those two concepts to peacefully co-exist and share facilities.”

Gears said the meeting was held because the commissioners — whom Gears reminded the crowd will have the final say on how the farm is utilized — requested a staff recommendation on a designated off-leash area for dogs. “This is not a public hearing, but a discussion,” Gears told the two or three dozen people gathered at Givens Community Center.

“It is a way for our staff to understand your perspective,” he said. “And hopefully for you to understand each other’s perspectives.”

Given the number of passionate e-mails he received before the meeting, Gears said he was expecting a potentially volatile discussion and took pains to remind the crowd to be respectful.

Once the ground rules were established, however, and — by and large — followed, Gears said he was pleased overall with the quality of the discussion surrounding the five initial areas — ranging in size from only1.5 acres to nearly 25.

For each concept, the public provided seeming endless input regarding each area’s proximity to parking and roads, degree of safety and ground quality.

“They had some good observations and ideas,” Gears said, explaining that his staff walked in with five concepts, and left with at least five more.

Gears said his staff will take the input collected at the meeting and apply it toward its recommendation, which he said will be presented to the county commissioners during a regularly scheduled meeting, which could be as early as Sept. 27.

“That meeting would be your opportunity to tell your elected officials your opinions,” he said. “Because in the end it will be them who make the decision.”

Since the county purchased the pastoral property from Judy Howe in 1996, several visions for the park’s future have formed and often clashed, including creating a working demonstration farm, restoring the wetlands and other habitats, or simply preserving the site in its current state.

A concept plan for the property was then developed over a series of public meetings. Approved by the commissioners in 2000, the plan included a preference for both continuation of the traditional farming practices, stream and wetland enhancement, and incorporating other potential uses by the public.

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

Gears said although all dogs are required to be leashed when inside county parks, he and his staff are aware that Howe Farm has become increasingly popular amongst dog owners as a place to let their dogs roam untethered.

“The county recognizes that we need more off-leash parks, no one is arguing that point,” Gears said, explaining that currently only two other areas in South Kitsap — Bandix Park in Olalla and South Kitsap Community Park offer off-leash areas.

Gears said he hopes that all 10 potential concepts for the off-leash area — which are detailed in the graphic and sidebar accompanying this story — will be available for viewing by the public on the county’s Web site, www.kitsapgov.com, by Sept. 1.

For more information or to submit comments and suggestions, you can e-mail Gears at cgears@co.kitsap.wa.us, or Dennis Oost at doost@co.kitsap.wa.us.

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