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City previews plans to move off-leash dog park near Auditorium Shores

Friday, July 12, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Parks officials Wednesday evening hosted a group of roughly fifty people for a tour of proposed changes to a dog park along Lady Bird Lake. Though the city is receiving a large to donation to help complete the work, and the effort should improve safety in the area, not everyone is happy with the project.


The plan – designed by local landscape architect TBG Partners – is to move the off-leash portion of the park north of where it is now, at Auditorium Shores near Riverside Drive. That, the theory goes, will give dogs complete access to shoreline without having to cross over the trail. The new park will take up 3.2 acres.


In addition, three new launches will give dogs safer access into the water. The park’s running trail will also be rerouted inland along the off-leash stretch. Crews will fully upgrade the irrigation system and lay down athletic-grade turf in the surrounding area.


The dog park project will cost $1.1 million. The city will pay for the improvements out of money in a reserve fund. Event promoter C3 Presents has pledged to replenish the money within five years. The project is on top of other Auditorium Shores renovations paid for by the company.


Planners expect the park to be finished by 2015. In order to avoid closing the entire park for the renovations, the work will be done in phases beginning with the off-leash portion of the dog park. City Council has given the project its go-ahead.


“We’re preparing for the future,” says Jesse Vargas, Assistant Director of Austin Parks and Recreation. “If we don’t, we’ll be sitting on a sand lot here in about 24 months.


Vargas acknowledged some of the hassle that might come with the project. “We’re asking dog people not to come through the middle lawn on-leash, and we’re going to give you a 3.2 acre dog park unlike any Austin’s ever seen,” he continued. “For event goers, they’re not going to have access to Auditorium Shores lawn while it’s being redone. Organizers for events have sought out alternative venues. Trail runners and cyclists will lose access to a sliver of trail that runs along the shoreline. But in return there’s going to be an incredible prize.”


Improving the park is a goal several years in the making. “The area is just unsafe,” said Bill Fraser of Friends of Austin Dog Parks, a non-profit organization that aims to enhance dog parks in Austin. “It’s long overdue for this to happen. We have dogs running north-south and pedestrians running east-west. It’s just a dangerous intersection.”


Vargas says that’s one of the main reasons the city is moving the off-leash area. He was part of a group of city officials on hand Wednesday night along the trail to give concerned citizens a tour of the proposed park and answer any questions about the project. “With the convergence of trail runners, cyclists, pedestrians, dogs, dog people and events, something’s got to give,” he said. “And we’re asking everyone who has a vested interest in the park to compromise a tiny bit.”


On Wednesday evening, Austin professor Jim Burleson was a lone naysayer who vocalized his opposition to the project – and, it seems, to dog parks in general.


“How many dog parks in this city are enough? We’ve already got 10,” he said. “I’ve been injured four times by dogs – dogs running out in front of me from behind or in the night. The last injury cost me $2,357. I have a permanent injury now from falling over two dogs on leash. No one’s responsible. The city’s not responsible. The owner’s not responsible. The dog’s not responsible. I need to run. I’m a runner. Dogs do not belong where runners are.”


When Burleson was reminded that the project will proceed despite his opinion, he said money was the city’s motivation. “Financial interests always take precedent over human interest as we see in every single corporation. The city is a corporation, so what’s the difference?”


Many in the group, some with their dogs, were obviously annoyed with Burleson and his views. After a few moments of at times heated back-and-forth, the group – without the accompaniment of Burleson — continued on with the tour and talked about more pro-dog park issues like the advantages and disadvantages of mulch field coverage, water spigots and drinking fountains, and the particulars of the dog launch spots.


“This is a mixed-use park and everybody’s going to have to make some concessions,” Fraser said. “Long before there were dogs in the park it was just a quiet peaceful park with events that came and went. But with the urban growth that we’ve had downtown, a lot of folks that live downtown now have dogs and come down for the experience. It’s a smart plan, it’s the right plan, it’s long overdue, it’s a huge win for the community but a bigger win for the park itself.”

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