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Expansion of City Marina will not impact island dog park

STORY BY NANCY SAPEY (Week of April 21, 2022)

The popular Vero Beach Dog Park got good news last week when Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls told its directors the planned expansion of the city’s marina will not impact the dog park as initially feared.

When the first draft of the marina plan showed a considerable section of the southern end of the dog park being taken for a new roadway, Park President Robert Joy, along with board members Penny Chandler and Jill Jones, met with Mayor Robbie Brackett, City Manager Monte Falls and Marina Director Sean Collins on March 22 about the plan.

Dog park officials produced a copy of the park’s original leasing agreement along with its survey and pointed out the intrusion.

City officials recognized the error, promising the Marina Master Plan would be altered to move the proposed road as to not encroach upon the existing boundaries of the dog park.

“There will be no physical impact on the dog park from Phase One of the marina improvements,” Falls wrote to Joy to confirm that the city’s consultant would modify the plan as discussed.

“We look forward to the successful completion of the marina improvements in a manner that is acceptable to the dog park and the majority of the community,” Falls wrote.

Then on Saturday morning, Collins joined dog park volunteers for a follow-up meeting. “The City has been very responsive, and promptly corrected the discrepancies in the site work of the Marina Master Plan,” Joy said.

The Vero Beach Dog Park was founded in 2014 by resident Jim Welles who has since moved away, Joy said. Five acres adjacent to the municipal marina was leased by the City of Vero Beach to the Vero Beach Dog Park, Inc.

A few years later, after the nonprofit group proved it could successfully improve, run and maintain the park, the city agreed to lease renewals extending to 2034.

Visitors now dub it the “Beverly Hills of Dog Parks” due to the well-planned design and prime location on the island along the Indian River. Fences, landscaping, chairs and benches are strategically placed to accommodate visitors and safely contain the dogs. Two pavilions and sun sails provide needed shade. Several water fountains and waste bag stations are located throughout, and new sod was recently added.

Dr. Jen Wortham, a member of the dog park’s board of directors, said there has been a “40 percent increase in followers in the past year.”

She attributes this to the upgrades in the park construction and the groups’ recent participation in social media. The new official Instagram page called “verobeachdogpark” and the Facebook page named “Vero Beach Dog Park” have increased awareness of the park, and serve to educate the public of the park’s rules and regulations.

Quick response square bar codes known as QR Codes have been posted around the park to enable visitors to scan them into their cell phones for reporting dog park incidents in a confidential manner.

A donor box is prominently placed inside the entrance of the park, and donations are used to subsidize improvements. Joy said he is proud of the fact that “no taxpayers’ money is used to maintain the park.” All the utilities, insurance liability, mowing and waste removal costs are covered by private donations. “There are no fees to visit this park,” he said.

The park is divided into three sections: dogs under 30 pounds, dogs over 30 pounds, plus an area for elderly or handicapped dogs.  A new observatory area was recently created at the south entrance to accommodate guests who may not have pets but want to visit and enjoy watching the canine antics.

Joy said he “notified assisted living facilities in Vero Beach that all city residents are welcome to visit the dog park.”

Parking spaces were recently built with pavers to facilitate handicap vans and wheelchairs. A covered area with benches has become a welcome spot to watch the dogs and visitors interact, providing another inclusive recreational activity for the public.

Joy recounted proudly that the dog park has been a haven for the public during the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Visitors could get out of their homes, come and sit in the fresh air with their pets, visit with friends and still abide by CDC guidelines.

During the pandemic, he said, many heartwarming stories came about. People made strong friendships. Some became travel partners. One visitor brought a reclusive elderly neighbor who had lost interest in life to the park. She had been an artist. She soon regained her interest in art and has become a dog portrait painter.

Boaters moored in the adjacent marina are grateful for the amenities the dog park offers, too. It’s an easy walk for marina guests through a path by the docks, making the dog park a major draw for marina patrons.