Paws wear out popular Arroyo Grande dog park

Since it opened more than a year ago, the off-leash dog park at the Arroyo Grande Elm Street Park has been a popular hangout for dogs and their owners — so much so that the wear and tear to the park is readily visible.

“Our beautiful grass has taken a beating,” said Cynthia Eklund, president of the Five Cities Dog Park Association, the group behind the park’s creation.

The Arroyo Grande City Council debated this week whether what’s left of the grass in the area meant for large dogs should be replaced with wood chips — as recommended by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission — or something else, such as decomposed granite or a synthetic surface.

Council members voted unanimously in favor of replacing the grass with wood chips but will formally consider the change in August.

The small-dog area would remain grass, Eklund said.

The park is one of seven in the county, including parks in Atascadero, Cambria, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Templeton and San Luis Obispo.

Five Cities Dog Park Association members hope to open another dog park in Shell Beach.Before the Arroyo Grande dog park was opened in May 2009, the association raised $50,000 to install concrete walkways, fencing and Mutt Mitt dispensers to clean up pet waste. Association members monitor the park daily.

The park has had other recent improvements: an Eagle Scout project installed sign boards for park rules and other information, the association added five benches, and the Tree Guild of Arroyo Grande planted seven trees around the park.

Complaints about park

The city has received two complaints about the park.

A city resident e-mailed in April with concerns about the condition of the grass, potential flea and tick problems, parking, the smell and possible interference with a bus stop in the area.

The bus stop has since been moved to the intersection of Elm and Ash streets, said Doug Perrin, Arroyo Grande’s director of recreation and maintenance services.

Also, Mitchell Mundahl, who manages the Park Place Apartments next to the park at 400 S. Elm St., sent a letter to the council Tuesday.

In February 2008, Mundahl had filed a petition asking a judge to block the park’s opening until a full environmental impact report was prepared.

“Of course we still oppose the placement of the dog park at its present location,” he wrote, adding that he opposes the use of wood chips or any other substance because they would affect the air quality and health of nearby residents.

He requested a 30-day extension to allow time to consult with experts on air quality and health issues, and he again requested an environmental impact report.

Mundahl was on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment.

A positive experience

Park users, however, say the park is convenient and allows their dogs to socialize.

“Some people, when I mention the dog park, they say it’s so noisy and smelly,” said Pat Williams, an Arroyo Grande resident who visits the park with her dog, Copper, nearly every day. “It’s not at all.”

“I’m glad it’s here,” said Tom Kessler, who recently moved to Pismo Beach to be closer to family. His Rhodesian ridgeback is “a lot of dog and needs running.”

He watched his dog run in the large-dog park, while his granddaughters, Sierra Whitham, 6, and Sage Whitham, 9, played with their black lab, Luke.

If approved by the Arroyo Grande council, the wood chips could be installed by the fall.

The city has a large supply of wood chips in its corporation yard because it removed several diseased Monterey pines from the area, Perrin said. Other tree trimmers may also be willing to donate wood chips, he said.

The Five Cities Dog Park Association would be responsible for ongoing maintenance of the chips. The association also spends about $400 a month to stock the Mutt Mitt dispensers — a cost that the donation stations in the park, which generate about $125 a month, don’t completely cover.

The association will hold a fundraiser Aug. 21 featuring vendors, a barbecue, a bounce house and a dog parade.

Association members are also working on plans to open a dog park on a 1.25-acre property in Shell Beach, located between Shell Beach Road and Highway 101, across the street from Beachcomber Drive.

The group still needs to prepare a traffic study and meet with numerous groups about the idea before they report to the City Council on their progress. Eklund said she hopes the group will be ready to do so in January.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

Fundraiser scheduled for Aug. 21

The Five Cities Dog Park Association will hold a fundraising event, “Puttin on the Dog,” at the Elm Street Park on Aug. 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit http://fivecitiesdogpark.org/.