by Susan Mikula Campbell
The towns of Wheatfield and Niagara are cooperating in a plan to bring a public dog park to the grounds of the SPCA of Niagara on Lockport Road.
At its regular meeting Monday, the Wheatfield Town Board officially designated Gerard Horner to be its representative in discussions with the Town of Niagara and the SPCA for the creation of a "Paw Park." Horner heads up the volunteer effort of the town's Parks and Recreation Focus Group, co-chaired by councilmen Larry Helwig and Gil Doucet.
Horner said the two towns would get together to seek grants to build the dog park, first seeking Greenway funding. Also, the state has some funding for private-public partnerships. The two towns would split any matching grant funds.
"The SPCA would be the ones to actually run it. That just makes sense for everybody," he said.
Depending on how quickly funding can be worked out, it's possible the dog park could open this year.
"Construction really only takes a matter of weeks," Horner said. "Everybody seems to be on board for it. We still need to sit down and work on the particulars."
SPCA Executive Director Andrew Bell pointed out that a dog park is good for the animals and having it on SPCA grounds would get more people to visit the shelter. Plus, the dog park could be used to exercise animals in the shelter.
"We know from the Lewiston experience, those parks are very popular," said Bell, who was active in setting up the Town of Lewiston Dog Park, located on the spoils area of Artpark. "We're on 26 acres here; we have the space to fit it in."
"It's very innovative," Bell added. "We have the space. They (the towns) have the manpower and the ability to get grant funding. Two townships working together with a non-profit - that has to be unique."
Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards also is on board with the dog park proposal. His town's board has heard residents ask for a dog park several times in the past year.
"I think this is a great proposal, not only for the towns of Niagara and Wheatfield, but also the Niagara County SPCA. What better location for a dog park than at the SPCA, which is centrally located between the two towns," Richards said. "I look forward to learning more of this proposal as it goes through the planning and funding process."
Horner said Wheatfield also has many residents interested in a dog park. The focus group held an open meeting for residents several months ago, at which attendees were asked to mark a display of possible projects showing the one in which they were most interested. The dog park got twice as many votes as any other project, which led the group to make it a priority.
Horner said volunteer focus group member Daphne Williams did a significant amount of research on the dog park proposal and "went above and beyond to really push the project forward."
The focus group can use more volunteers, he added.