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Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 12:01 am

A poochy plan

A place for dogs in Washington Park

A walk in the park might take on a whole new meaning, at least for dogs, if Dr. David Hoelzer and his wife, Dr. Karen Hoelzer, have their way.

The Hoelzers are pushing for a fenced-off leash area for dogs in Washington Park, and they are offering to put up  as much as half of the estimated $100,000 cost. The 1.2-acre so-called dog park would be erected on a little-used grassy area that includes a few trees near the botanical gardens.

It’s not a done deal, and a recent 4-3 vote by the park board to OK private fundraising efforts signals that final approval may not be a sure thing. The board has set a Jan. 7 hearing to consider the proposal.

“I totally understand that not everyone on this earth loves dogs and doesn’t understand the need for a dog park,” said David Hoelzer, who owns two golden retrievers. “Washington Park is a very special place. People tend to get nervous when you request areas for special use.”

Dog parks, despite their name, are really for people, David Hoelzer says. Consider the age-old story of couples who meet while walking dogs. Hoelzer says that his sister-in-law recently got a job from an employer she met at a dog park outside Springfield.

“These things do happen,” Hoelzer says.

Other stuff happens, too, and so dog owners would be required to clean up after their pets and make sure they are properly licensed. Dogs in heat wouldn’t be allowed, nor would aggressive dogs.

“Dog parks are typically self-policed,” Hoelzer says. “There’s peer pressure for everyone to stay in line.”

Hoelzer points to the existing dog park at Stuart Park on the city’s northwest corner as evidence that off-leash dogs can coexist with each other as well as ball fields, picnic shelters and other amenities aimed at people. He said he envisions a dog park at Washington Park that would be open to everyone and their mutts, but a key card system could be developed that would require payment for entry, which could help cover maintenance expenses.

The dog park would include a disposable bag dispensing station for dog owners who neglect to bring their own. Hoelzer also wants to see a watering station for dogs and an agility course. Besides being a gathering spot for dog lovers, a dog park could become a spot for animal welfare groups to show off dogs in need of new homes, Hoelzer says.

“There are all kinds of things you could do out there,” Hoelzer says. “Dog parks are fairly popular in communities of all sizes. We’re not exactly cutting edge here.”

Hoelzer says he and his wife plan on raising $100,000, in part by matching themselves each donation made. Twenty percent would be set aside for maintenance, and Hoelzer says he would like to arrange for volunteers to perform maintenance, which essentially means cutting grass, trimming weeds and picking up any litter.

Park board member Ted Flickinger says that he loves dogs as much as anyone, but he doesn’t think Washington Park needs a dog park. He’s concerned about people parking where they shouldn’t and maintenance that he fears would eventually end up a park district responsibility and expense.

“I’ve got serious reservations about it,” Flickinger said. “My main concern is, Washington Park is a great park, but it’s overdeveloped. … There’s a lot of erosion problems, a lot of other problems because we’ve overdeveloped the park.”

Rather than consider ideas as they’re hatched, Flickinger said that the park district needs to come up with a master plan for parks. The plan now in place was written in 1987 and last updated in 2005, he said.

“This piecemeal stuff is just not the way to go,” Flickinger said. “We need a plan, and we need to keep it in place.”

While she shares Flickinger’s concerns about parking, board member Robin Schmidt says that a dog park is a fine plan. About 80 percent of the people she’s spoken with are in favor, she said.

“I think it’s a good idea because there’s a demand for it in that area,” Schmidt said. “People are already using it (that area) for that, from what I understand.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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