Gone are the days of an abundant source of cash for community projects. Yet the smart jurisdictions — cities and counties on down to junior taxing districts such as PenMet Parks — figure out a way to do it.
Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Rotary Bark Park is a prime example. The long-awaited off-leash park, the first of its kind in unincorporated Pierce County, is an excellent example of what can happen when surrounding organizations pool their time, talents and resources. The result is a collaborative community effort to get the job done.
In this case, Canine Health Education and Welfare had the initial push to have an off-leash park in the Gig Harbor area seven years ago. Volunteers for the organization collected more than 1,400 signatures and started an endowment fund to use for the eventual facility.
As time went by, CHEW realized a dog park could happen in the area. That’s when the organization started a formal dog rescue operation on the peninsulas.
There were a couple of options to pursue: lobby Pierce County, which appropriates money for projects every year in each its seven districts, or turn to PenMet Parks, a relatively new taxing authority at the time.
Under Executive Director Terry Lee, who previously served as our elected representative on the Pierce County Council until he reached his term limit, PenMet Parks started to acquire land. A good chunk of it was surplused from Pierce County Parks and Recreation, and Lee knew how to go after it because of his established relationship with county officials.
PenMet Parks wasn’t the only smaller jurisdiction to benefit from surplus parks. When the recession hit in 2009 and tax collection was down across the board at all levels of government, Pierce County went looking for ways to cut maintenance costs. Handing over prime real estate to a junior taxing district — one that would put those parks on a higher priority scale — could be mutually beneficial for the county and local parks districts.
In this case, the land for the off-leash dog park came through another route entirely. PenMet Parks approached the Peninsula School District, which owns the land near Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One headquarters on Bujacich Road Northwest that was turned into a park.
Through taxpayers, the school district already had the 92-acre parcel paid for and set aside for future growth. PenMet Parks leased the land from the school district but still needed permits, parking, stormwater drains, road access and other necessities to open the facility.
That’s when PenMet Parks asked Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One for consideration, and the fire district’s board of commissioners leased parking spaces to help alleviate the cost that was quickly adding up.
More help came from the Gig Harbor Rotary, which provided the entrance sign and cleared the half-acre area at the entrance of the park. Rotary volunteers also completed internal trails and the open area.
Dog owners have been using the area for a couple of months, even though the opening wasn’t official until last Saturday.
It says a lot about grassroots efforts, the public voice and willingness on the side of elected officials to give the community what it wants. It’s a win-win on all sides and a shining example of how government is supposed to work.
PenMet Parks, which holds public meetings twice a month at the Sehmel Homestead Park pavilion, plans to open another dog park in the near future, and it has been working on a comprehensive plan to include potential uses for future parks — a great time for community input.
The cultivation of all the project’s partners for the Rotary Bark Park needed to be successful, and it started with a community of people willing to have an open dialogue and work together to make things happen.
It’s a theme of opportunity: Ideas can grow if others are willing to help. The community made it happen together.