By Steve Novotney
When the ribbon is cut this summer to officially open Wheeling’s new dog park, it will represent the culmination of conversations that began more than two years ago.
Residents of the Friendly City first collected during the winter of 2013, and following fundraisers, a third-place finish in PetSafe’s “Bark for Your Park” contest, and a meeting with city government officials, a location in East Wheeling has been determined, the design is nearly complete, and construction is expected to begin this spring, according to organizer Jeremy Morris.
“Parks like this one have been very popular throughout the country for a lot of years, and we know it is something that potential residents look for in their communities,” Morris explained. “It’s an amenity that makes a difference, and it says something about the community itself.
“Except for neighborhoods like Warwood, Elm Grove, and Woodsdale, Wheeling is a pretty urban city with little space in the neighborhoods near the downtown district for our dogs,” he said. “Not only will this help bring the city into the 21st Century, but there is also a social aspect to dog parks. Once it’s open, neighbors will get to meet other neighbors with dogs whom they might not know at this time.”
Tara Patterson is a resident of McMechen, a small city located just a few miles south of Wheeling, and she has been one of the most active supporters of the dog park since the beginning.
“Just because we don’t live within the borders of Wheeling does not mean we do not want to see Wheeling continue to improve like it has been the last several years,” she said. “The city of Wheeling is a big part of the lives of everyone who lives in this valley, and that’s why I decided to get so involved.
“Plus, I am a dog owner who treats her dog like a member of the family. Lily is like one of my children,” she said. “She has a constant source of happiness for our family, so this is one way we can repay her for all of those smiles.”
Patterson also believes the dog park project is an example of the efforts being made now in the Friendly City to update the amenities offered to local residents.
“There are a lot of people in Wheeling who want to see it become a vibrant community again, and the dog park is a part of that just like the Wheeling skatepark was a few years ago,” she said.
“There’s an effort now to modernize, and that’s a good thing because I know when younger people are looking for a new place to live, a dog park is usually on that check list,” Patterson added. “Right now, there are more people in our country who own dogs than ever before, and because of dog parks in urban areas even the people choosing to live in downtown areas now own pets.”
While the organization and design work have been developed over the past two years, the manual labor is expected to begin this spring.
“At this point we are working with the city to schedule the clearing of the area near the Tunnel Green Recreation Area in East Wheeling,” said Morris, the executive director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. “There are a lot of trees in the area, and we will be keeping most of them, but not all of them. At that point, I’m sure some earthwork will be needed because this is land that has been untouched since W.Va. Route 2 was placed in that area a few decades ago.
“This location is one that one of our committee members – Michelle Marinaci – suggested when we first started meeting as a committee, but I don’t think many of us listened well because we were so concentrated on some of the other possibilities,” he said. “But then she brought it up again, and the rest of us realized it was right under our noses the entire time.”
The dog park will be split into a pair of sections, Morris explained, with 0.65 acres designated for canines under 30 pounds, and 1.3 acres set aside for larger dogs.
“It is important to have the smaller dogs separated from the bigger dogs for safety reasons,” Morris explained. “Even if a smaller dog is only playing with a larger dog, injuries could take place, and that’s something we want to avoid as much as possible.”
Morris said bidding on the project should begin in April or early May for the needed earthwork, the installation of fencing and benches, and the re-organization of the nearby parking lot. The projected cost for the construction of the Wheeling Dog Park, Morris confirmed, is between $125,000-$150,000.
“We now have $25,000 in hand from winning third place in the ‘Bark for Your Park’ contest back in 2013 when the community really came together to beat cities much larger than Wheeling,” he said. “And we have several fundraisers planned, and we are also speaking with several potential park sponsors.
“We also have to develop the rules for the park because we do want it to be as safe as possible for the dogs and their owners,” Morris added. “In the city of Wheeling and in Ohio County, we have ‘leash laws,’ but owners will be able to remove those leashes inside the two sections of this park, so we’ll be working with the city to amend what ordinances need to be amended to make sure everything is above-board before the ribbon is cut sometime in late-summer.”