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Dog park ready for vote

After carefully considering nearly a dozen options and countless opinions from an often passionate public, staff members from the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department have prepared a recommendation for a proposed off-leash dog area in Howe Farm County Park for commissioner approval next month.

Planner Dennis Oost said the proposed site carves at least 13 acres off the 80-acre park, and includes both shaded and sunny areas that are close to the existing parking lot.

“It does have a lot of variety,” Oost said, explaining that approximately five acres of the site are open, grassy areas, while the other seven acres are wooded, which may include more trails in the future.

In addition to the permanent site, Oost said another seven acres have been designated for potential seasonal use. Oost said the additional acreage — titled Phase II — is currently used for hay production as part of the working demonstration farm on the property.

Oost said the recommendation was created with all users in mind, and staff hoped to strike a compromise that would support both the activities of the public — with and without dogs — and the farm.

In August, Oost and Parks and Recreation Director Cris Gears presented five ideas for off-leash areas to the community in a public meeting, and left with five more possibilities offered by attendees. Although the current recommendation is not technically one of the concepts, creating them did provide a focal point for the discussion, Oost said.

Gears said he was pleased overall with the quality of the discussion surrounding the five initial areas — ranging in size from only 1.5 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.

County spokeswoman Terri O'Neill said the dog park recommendation will be presented to the commissioners for a vote during the Nov. 22 meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. in the county building at 614 Division Street. The public is invited and can make comments at that time.

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.

A map of the recommended site and more information is available at kitsapgov.com/parks/regionalparks/howe_farm_county_park.htm

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