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County OKs off-leash dog park

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to approve a plan to create an off-leash dog area in Howe Farm County Park, which was formed by the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department after months of collecting public comment.

“You’ve done a marvelous job,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “All the stakeholders are happy. We need to approve the funds to go forward. The plan is a great combination of all efforts that will make both sides very happy. It’s a product of a lot of bending, stretching and reaching.”

Planner Dennis Oost said the off-leash area — which carves off at least 13 acres of the 83-acre park — 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 addition to the permanent site, Oost said there is another seven acres that 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.

Shawn Ultican, who works for the Kitsap County Health District and serves as chairman for the Howe Farm Stewardship Committee which helped create an overall plan for the park, said he supported the off-leash plan, but expressed concerns about ensuring proper usage.

First, Ulitcan suggested that the off-leash area be created on a trial basis, “to ensure that the area can be properly managed and maintained to avoid potential conflicts with other park users.”

Ultican also expressed concern about the wetland habitat being properly protected. He said dogs have already caused significant devegetation and erosion along the banks of Salmonberry Creek, and since usage is only expected to increase, he said a close eye needs to be kept on the health of the wetlands.

Ultican said that opening the “seasonal, 7-acre area” should be contingent on dog owners demonstrating “they can clean up the pet waste” on a consistent basis.

“Lots of dog poop has been left on the fields at Howe Farm, even after owners pledge to pick it up,” Ulitcan said. “Hay from the seasonal area will not be marketable if it contains poop, and soils from the area will not be suitable for growing crops in the future.”

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.

The plan is expected to cost $400,000, and will be separated into two phases. Funding for Phase I, expected to cost $300,000, was included the the parks department’s proposed 2005-06 capital project budget.

Phase II is expected to cost another $100,000.

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