The park's shade trees are a big draw but also hinder growth of natural grass.
Muddy paws could be a thing of the past at Bayfront Park’s big-dog enclosure, courtesy of a six-figure donation this week from a town resident to fund installation of state-of-the-art artificial turf.
The Longboat Key Town Commission on Monday accepted a $123,000 donation from resident Irene Hess and the Paul Klingenstein Family Foundation through the town’s Rotary Club charitable fund.
The donation will pay for removal of faltering sod on three-quarters of the dog park’s large-dog enclosure, allowing a quarter to remain with natural grass for canine visitors who might like a more natural setting in which to play, dig or, well, do what dogs do outdoors.
Carol Erker, treasurer of Rotary LBK Charitable Fund, said Hess is a frequent visitor to the park with her dog, Georgie Girl. Klingenstein, Hess’ father, was a Longboat Key resident before he died, a founder of Temple Beth Israel and a generous philanthropist.
"She felt very strongly that the success of the park has been that the dogs love it," Erker said. "The people love it, and they’re there and they’re using it."
Erker said the shade provided by mature trees is one of the main draws to the dog park, but "the flip side is it's hard to grow grass in the shade, and with the use the park gets, particularly with the big dogs, it gets dirty."
Erker said Hess and her foundation joined forces with Rotary’s goal of community service and its track record in helping plan for the dog park beginning in 2014 to make the project come alive.
"Rotary thought it was a great social service program because it's not just the dogs, it's a gathering place," Erker said.
Officially, commissioners had to amend the fiscal year 2022 budget to accept the donation and fund the improvements. But before doing so, the town dug deep into how the artificial turf product works and holds up.
Town Public Works Department staffers spent some time recently researching artificial-turf dog parks in Hillsborough County, Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said, speaking to patrons, corresponding with agencies tasked with upkeep and generally understanding how the material holds up to dog and human traffic.
They even walked the parks with a discerning nose to determine if anything unpleasant could be detected. (It could not, Brownman said.)
Commissioner BJ Bishop joked that friends of hers recently installed a patch of artificial turf for their dogs’ outdoor business, though her friends’ dogs have developed an aversion to it and instead head to neighbors natural grass. She said she was pleased a natural grass option will remain, for dogs of a certain mindset, like her friends'.
"We believe it’s worth giving it a shot," Brownman said. "I can’t speak to the dogs’ psychological preferences to it, however, but we did check into it fairly thoroughly."
The turf material, approved for dog park use by state and national parks-industry trade groups, is permeable and often is installed in conjunction with an irrigation system to wash it down periodically. Bayfront Park’s two dog enclosures already are equipped with such a watering system, Brownman said.
Sod has been a perennial problem, especially on the large-dog side, at the park.
About a year ago, dog owners complained to the town their pets returned from the park with dirty paws and coats prompting a decision to resod in the summer of 2021.
Closed from mid-July until September, the park was resodded at a cost of $6,250. After a high-traffic season from late 2021 until now, large swaths of dirt and worn away grass have returned.
“According to (town parks manager) Mark Richardson, they didn't even get a year out of it, so it was like, 'Wow, this is a vicious circle,' " Erker said.
Erker said Rotary was contemplating a dog-park spruce up about the time Hess approached the town about the turf idea. She said Richardson recalled the cooperation between the town and Rotary when plans for the dog park were originally coming together and suggested Rotary and Hess get together.
"We intend to do more to make this a big project," Erker said. "One suggestion has been to put more seating in. … It was somewhat serendipitous that a person identified this as something worthy of support."
Town commissioners thanked Hess for her donation and Erker for the Rotary Club’s efforts in helping coordinate it. No timetable for construction was noted.
"We’ve taken great pains to try to convince our dogs not to go on the carpet," Mayor Ken Schneier said.
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