Fall Opening for Fitzsimmons Dog Park

It was a little more than four years ago when the conversation started about building a dog park in the Friendly City, and now the organizers are only a few months away from the ribbon cutting for the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park at the Tunnel Green Recreation Complex in East Wheeling.

The holdup at this point?


“I do wish I had a concrete answer as far as an official date, but we’re still waiting for the grass to really take hold because once it opens, we expect the traffic to be hectic during the first few months because of how curious people are about it,” said Gregg Boury, one of the lead organizers on the dog park committee. “We are very close and we all expect it to be ready by the fall season, but there are a few more things that do need to be done to have the site completely prepared.

“The one thing that’s going to determine the opening is the re-seeding of the grass,” he said. “It’s a large area, and there are some bare spots, so they need to go back through and seed those areas. But the fencing is all up, the water areas are getting finished, and the memorial bricks will be installed next week.”

Boury said he’s been asked a number of times about the opening of the dog park, and most of the people are puzzled because the two-sided facility appears ready for the city’s canines. “I understand all of the questions because no one wants this park open more than I do,” he said. “There’s been a lot of excitement in our community since the conversation about a dog park started several years ago, and a lot of people rallied behind the effort to win the funds from PetSmart.

The east side of the dog park will be designated for canines under 30 pounds.

“When we do get it open, we anticipate a lot of foot and paw traffic, so it is critical that there is a firm root system in place on that first day and on. Now, what’s in place as time goes by is up to how much traffic the park sees in the future,” Boury said. “If anyone has been to a dog park somewhere else, they know that there’s usually not a lot of grass inside because of the amount of visitors. If that’s the case at the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park, then that will mean it’s a popular place, and we’ll deal with that in the ways we can.”

Those wishing to visit to the dog park can gain access by traveling east on 18th Street in East Wheeling and following the erected signage for the Tunnel Green Athletic Complex.

“I have addressed the members of city council about the roadway because there are a few areas that are pretty narrow,” Boury reported. “What I requested was that the city provide some pullover areas because there are a couple of areas that are pretty narrow. I do hope they consider earmarking some funds to make that happen because it will become much safer if they do.

“For the most part, it’s not a single-lane roadway, but there are those areas that could use the work,” he continued. “If those pullovers are not added, then there will be times when one car will have to back up to let the other by. So, we will see what decisions are made, and we’ll go from there.”

The dog park committee has been studying the rules for dog parks across the country, and they have assembled a set of 16.

The first blueprint for the facility was donated by Wheeling architect Mike Kerns.

“We chose the ones we felt were the most applicable for the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park,” Boury said, “We also included the ordinances the city has had in place concerning dogs. That’s how the list was developed.”

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The rules:

  • Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated, and tags must be worn at all times;
  • In accordance with city ordinance, no dog declared vicious can enter the park;
  • Aggressive dogs and dogs in heat are prohibited;
  • All dogs must be leashed until safely inside the park;
  • Owners must have a leash visible at all times;
  • A dog must be removed from the park at the first sign of aggression;
  • No more than two dogs per owner are permitted at one time in the park;
  • Owners must be in view of their dogs and must be in verbal control at all times;
  • Owners are liable for any injury or damages caused by their dog and are responsible for their dog’s actions;
  • All dog toys are prohibited in the park;
  • Puppies must be at least six months old;
  • For the safety of children, please do not bring a child younger than 12 years of age;
  • Owners must dispose of waste properly in the designated on-site containers;
  • No food or glass containers are permitted inside the park;
  • Smoking and alcohol are prohibited at and around the park;
  • Park closes at sunset each day.

“I would like the city to consider amending the dangerous dog ordinance to allow canary breeds in the park as long as they are muzzled while inside,” Boury said. “The concern with muzzling those dogs and allowing them to run is that they can’t defend themselves if another dog that is not part of the ordinance gets aggressive with them. I’m sure something could be figured out so those dog owners can utilize the park just like everyone else. So I am hopeful the city entertains that idea.”

The west side of the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park is where dogs 31 pounds and heavier will romp off-leash.

The east side of the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park will be designated for canines that are 30 pounds or smaller, and the more expansive west side will welcome all pups 31 pounds or more. Committee members are currently considering a little leeway for owners of older dogs.

“When an owner has a six-month-old puppy that will be over 30 pounds but isn’t yet, it will be OK for them to use the smaller park until the dog reaches the limit,” Boury explained. “So, yes, there will be some dogs that graduate from the smaller park to the larger park, and hey, maybe we can have a little ceremony for them.

“We are also thinking about allowing older dogs over 30 pounds to use the smaller park because when they are older they do not have as much energy,” he said. “That is something that we need to talk about because an older dog can be taken over by the younger ones.”

The park is located adjacent to the outdoor hockey rink, a large shelter, and a ballfield at the Tunnel Green Recreation Complex in East Wheeling.

The Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park also will feature a couple of very special amenities thanks to a donation made by the City of Wheeling, Boury revealed, and a pair of local artists are involved. The West Virginia Artist of the Year, Robert Villamagna, will join the ultra-talented Amanda Carney in painting two retired fire hydrants, one for each side of the park.

“I believe that’s going to be a very special touch for both sides of the park, and to have those two artists painting them means, to me, that it really couldn’t get any better than that,” he said. “They will paint a design similar to what we see on the parking meters in the Centre Market area, and we believe they will make the park even more special than it will be already.”

(Photos by Steve Novotney)