It doesn’t make sense anymore to say that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel regarding efforts to build Billings’ first dog park.
It’s more like the folks leading the charge should put on some sunglasses soon because they’ve already got one foot out of the tunnel.
On Oct. 15, members of the Friends of Billings Dog Parks committee and city officials will celebrate the grand opening of High Sierra Dog Park with the community after nearly three years of fundraising and work.
“It’s probably still not going to seem real to me until we open the gate, but it’s so exciting,” said Sue Bressler, committee chairwoman. “I don’t think any of us thought it would take this long.”
The grass-roots committee, with the city’s blessing, has raised about $65,000 toward the ultimate goal of building three dog parks in Billings. High Sierra, at the west end of Wicks Lane, is the first and they hope to build others on the West End and somewhere in south or central Billings.
When the gates at High Sierra open at 11 a.m. Saturday, users will have access to a wide-open, fenced-in 7.5-acre dog park. It will have signage, a joint bullpen entrance and a 1-acre, fenced area for smaller and timid dogs.
A donor also provided six sanitation and waste stations that will be scattered throughout.
“We’re hoping to have people come out and just see what the park is like,” Bressler said.
The grand opening will feature a “leash cutting” ceremony, a speech from Mayor Tom Hanel, kids activities, food and demonstrations from local dog-related groups, including a law enforcement K-9 unit.
When the City Council approved the addition of a dog park to the High Sierra master plan in 2009, it did so with a catch — the city didn’t have any money for construction.
Friends of Billings Dog Parks has been fundraising ever since. The park’s construction won’t cost taxpayers anything.
Mark Jarvis, a city planner with Billings Parks and Recreation who’s been working with the committee, said in August that they’ve had to delay the park’s opening date several times since 2010 due to slower-than-expected fundraising and timing the construction.
However, an anonymous $25,000 donation this spring and nearly $20,000 raised through a pair of fun run fundraisers in the summers of 2010 and 2011 helped push it forward, as did plenty of in-kind donations.
“We’re really hoping that now that this is open, that it’s more visible, that people will start donating more,” Bressler said.
“If everybody in town with a dog gave just a little bit, we could get all of this done.”
There is still work to be done at High Sierra, including installing mulch-covered pathways, water stations and shade structures and a few groups have volunteered to do other odds and ends, but Bressler said there’s always room for an extra hand.
“There’ll be some Saturday work days and we’d love to have people help us out,” she said.
The committee will now put more focus on establishing dog parks in other parts of town but on Saturday, they want people to help celebrate the opening of Billings’ first.
And, of course, dogs are welcome to join.