BELFAST — Many community members and grateful users of the Belfast Dog Park came together Sept. 29 at Walsh Field Recreation Area to say thanks to all those who have made the park a thriving success.

The snack tent at the Dog Bark! event at Walsh Field Sept. 29. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

The event, dubbed “Dog Bark!” — Belfast Dog Park Appreciation Day, is the first of what organizers hope will be many to follow and featured free hot dogs, pizza, drinks and snacks, and, of course, doggie treats.

Carol Good, one of the founders of Friends of Belfast Parks, the coalition that came up with the idea to build a dog park at Walsh Field, said, “It’s been a labor of love.”

Belfast City Council unanimously approved the park proposal in 2007, and the park was completed the following year. The Belfast Dog Park opened to the public Aug. 16, 2008. 

Good said FOBP initially donated $10,000, and later raised an additional $50,000 needed to complete the park, then oversaw construction of the facility.

A friendly doggie enjoying the Belfast Dog Park Sept. 29. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

“When we did the proposal at the time, Belfast city manager at the time Joe Slocum was skeptical at first,” she said, but eventually came around. When the park was completed, it was one of only two public dog parks in the state, the other one being in Portland. Since then, she said, several other parks have opened. 

FOBP produced a “User’s Guide” for anyone visiting the park that outlines rules and advice on making the initial visit a successful and safe one. The guide also has important information on topics such as healthy play, stress signals and tips on how to intervene in a dog fight; in addition, it lists local veterinarians.

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Good said she has shared the guide, along with the proposal to the city, with other groups interested in similar projects. “We are very grateful for this gesture of Appreciation Day,” she said. 

Belfast Parks and Recreation Director Norm Poirier said a dog park is no different than a playground or a skate park. This park is even more important, he said, because it doubles as a play area for adults. He observed that “People who use the park really take care of it.”

The dog park gets “an unbelievable amount of use,” he said. On any given day six or seven cars are parked in the lot. Two ballfields also draw people to the expansive recreational area.

“It takes an entire community to take care of a park like this,” he said. “From the parks crew who couldn’t be here tonight, thank you.”

Community members, volunteers and grateful users of Belfast Dog Park listen to Scott Denman, not pictured, speak Sept. 29. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

A number of the original volunteers who worked on the dog park project were on hand at the appreciation lunch, including Kathy Muzzy and Carol Bauss.

Muzzy noted, “See these pavers — we put all these down.” Bauss added that between this job and placing pavers at the Quimby Labyrinth, another FOBP project, “my back is gone — but we had a lot of laughs.”

Seeing all the dogs on this picture-perfect day, Muzzy said, made it all worthwhile. There has been a lot of positive feedback, as well, from people who use the park regularly, and from travelers passing through the city. “We’ve seen a lot of camaraderie from the city and from dog owners,” she said. Good added that many friendships were started at the dog park along the way. 

Scott Denman, one of the “Dog Bark” organizers, said he felt tremendous gratitude for the safe outdoor gathering place, especially now, in light of the pandemic.

“There is so much stress in our daily lives,” he said, “we laugh our heads off here looking at the dogs.

“We thought, what can we do to say thank you? I feel you can tell much about a community that takes care of its animals. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s an indicator of why Belfast is such a great place, and we wanted to contribute.”

Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Debbie Hockensmith, another FOBP founder, said the park has been a hit since the day it opened. “We have people traveling from Bangor several times a week” just  to visit the park, she said.

The park has brought people together, and created friendships. Thirteen years later, it is still connecting people, she said. “People don’t realize the value this park has,” she said. “We are very fortunate.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/belfastmainedogpark.