Users had complained of muddy pets, sparse grass.
Before Farrah Fawcett can make an appearance at Bayfront Park on regular mornings, she simply must put on her pink coat.
It’s not a fashion statement for the fluffy-furred frequent visitor to the town’s only dog park.
It’s to keep her white fur from getting muddy while playing with her likewise-unleashed friends.
Longboat Key’s park within a park has been a popular place for a community of dog owners and their furry companions since it opened in 2017.
They gather almost every morning in the season, big dogs in one fenced-in portion, small dogs in the other.
But the use has taken a toll on the grass, creating bare spots and a heightened level of frustration for owners trying to keep their pets clean.
“The dogs like coming here more than we do,” said Longboat Key resident Dick Lyons, the owner of the dog nicknamed for the glamorous 1980s TV and movie star. “It’s their time.”
After hearing complaints about the conditions, the town recently agreed to resod the dog park later this summer and potentially for years to come.
Although the job is still out to bid, the cost is estimated at around $10,000.
“This is our first dog park the town’s ever had, so we’re kind of learning as we’re going just like with any other new amenity we might put out there,” Streets, Facilities, Parks and Recreation Director Mark Richardson said.
Dog owners Carole O’Leary and Peter Larson were among the residents who wrote to the Town Commission asking whether something could be done.
“What happens today is our dogs are there, and they come in clean, and they leave there a muddy mess because the dogs have a great time playing there, but they really are filthy by the time they leave,” Larson said. “And that hasn’t been the experience in previous years. It’s just highly utilized, and we just need to maintain this wonderful area.”
Even though there is a hose outside of the park to rinse the dogs off, Lyons uses a different approach. He started slipping the rain slicker on Farrah Fawcett to avoid wholesale cleanups after trips to the park.
Larson described the dog park’s current conditions as worse than previous years.
“What’s been happening lately is that the soil has gotten so dry and sandy that bugs are living in the ground, and people are getting bitten all the time,” Larson said. “It’s just a very unpleasant experience, but we’re there every single day with our dogs.”
O’Leary echoed Larson’s sentiments about the state of the dog park.
“And the rain, it’s horrific,” he said. “When it rains, it’s just a mess, not that it rains that often.”
Richardson said August and September tend to be the slowest months for the dog park and also when it’s warmest and rainiest.
“So summer is obviously a good time to plan things because you do get the rain,” Richardson said.
Right now, the town does not have resodding the dog park’s grass in its recurring capital budget, which Richardson hopes to change.
“Going forward, our plan is to have it in the capital budget as an every-three-year type of thing,” Richardson said. “Let’s just plan on resodding it, and then that money will be set aside to do that, just like we have capital items to reline all the courts every five or six years.”
Natural grass remains the best option, Richardson said, adding that the pros and cons of other surfaces just don’t add up.
Artificial turf is more expensive, is hotter and doesn’t drain as well as natural grass. It’s also harder to clean.
Sand gets too hot in the summer, and mulch holds bacteria.
Dog owners said they appreciate the attention the town has given their issues and said their group has become a tightly knit gathering.
That network came to the rescue of Janet Picheny when her beagle, Tasha, escaped from the park and was missing for nearly a week.
The group helped Picheny find her lost pup by leaving out food and doing night walks. Eventually, Tasha showed up.
“I cried. Are you kidding me? I cried,” Picheny said. “I wrote everybody in this group. I know their faces, but I don’t know their names. We wept, and we were just so excited.”
“It really is just such a great attribute to Longboat Key,” Larson said. “[I’m] so pleased that they constructed that park, but it just needs to be better maintained.”
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