Dog owners are a hearty breed, as demonstrated by their willingness to turn out for a dog park fundraising kickoff Saturday morning at Centennial Park despite the cold, snowy weather.
Huddled under awnings on the southwest side of the undeveloped park at 32nd Street West and St. Johns Avenue, the small group of dog owners and their pets heard an update on the city’s second dog park.
They also were invited to buy raffle tickets and T-shirts to raise money.
“They canceled soccer and they canceled fall baseball but the dog park event went on,” said Michael Whitaker, director of the Billings Parks, Recreation & Public Lands. “That says a lot about dog park people.”
Saturday’s event was put on by the city department and Friends of Billings Dog Parks.
The 6 ½ acre West End dog park, just a half-acre smaller than High Sierra dog park in the Heights, will be part of the larger Centennial Park. In July the Billings City Council approved more than $2 million to complete the first phase of the overall park.
Bids will go out in early 2019 for next spring's initial construction. That will include infrastructure for the overall park, including utilities, irrigation, parking lots, sidewalks and restrooms.
Dog park elements will be included in the bid as an added alternative. If enough money is raised, that work can be completed in the first phase.
Friends of Billings Dog Parks, which already has $33,000 set aside for dog park amenities hopes to raise substantially more.
Dog parks are growing in popularity around the United States, said Mayor Bill Cole. Cities are building more dog parks than playgrounds, he said.
“That's because dogs are easier to train,” one woman called out, sparking laughter from the others.
Cole said his daughter, Kristen, who is moving to Detroit in January, had two requirements for her new living arrangements. One, she has to be within walking distance of work and, two, she and her dog Riley must live close to a dog park.
“And the dog park’s more important that the work part,” he said.
Cole said development of Centennial Park has been a long time coming. The land has sat undeveloped for 50 years.
“We haven’t developed a large regional park anywhere in Billings for 37 years, so this is the beginning of great things,” Cole said.
He thanked the Billings City Council for authorizing more than $2 million for the infrastructure of the new park. Adding a second dog park just makes sense, he added, in a city where 80 percent of households have at least one dog.
“It’s part of our quality of life,” Cole said. “It’s part of what we need, to build a community that people want to live in and to bring people to Billings and keep them in Billings, especially young people.”
Park Planner Mark Jarvis displayed the master plan of the park, which was completed in 2015. The plan for the dog park includes water features, agility courses, shelters and drinking fountains.
“Of course a lot of that is going to depend on how far we can stretch the money and what kind of donations we can get,” he said. “But we’d love to put in as much as we possibly can.”
The plan for the rest of the park eventually calls for the addition of a splash pad, basketball court, pickle ball court and playground, Jarvis said. There will also be a couple of large multi-use grassy areas that could be available for everything from pick-up games to flying kites.
Marcia Clausing, co-chair of Friends of Billings Dog Parks along with Sue Bressler, told the group she and Bressler have been working on dog parks in Billings since 2008.
The two women are hoping that anybody who has an interest in such parks will volunteer to share their ideas and to help raise the needed dollars and those who can't volunteer will donate money.
“We want this park and High Sierra Dog Park to become really great jewels in the community,” Clausing said. “And we’d also like to see a third park maybe near Coulson Park so we have three really big regional dog parks throughout town.”
Bressler said a fully fenced dog park is a great place for dogs to run and let off steam as they socialize with other dogs. It also lets dog owners socialize with each other.
“And it’s great for people who maybe aren’t as mobile, that they can let their dogs run even if they can’t,” she said. “So if they can’t walk their dog, they have a chance to let their dogs run.”
Samantha Meeks, who brought her two-year-old Great Dane Tobias on Saturday, takes her dog to High Sierra just about every other day. Meeks, who lives halfway between the two parks, is thrilled for a second park.
It’s a chance for Tobias to stretch his legs, run around free and socialize with other dogs.
“He plays probably with every dog there,” she said. “All the dogs really get along and they all love each other, pretty much.”