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The fenced-in, off-leash area is on the north side of Water Park. It's the city's first designated dog park.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Cornelius Council President Dave Schamp, former parks advisory board member Jay Larson and current parks advisory board member Nancy Arp cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the off-leash dog park in Cornelius on Saturday, Aug. 17.A group of committed Cornelius residents spent years to get to this moment. On Saturday morning, Aug. 17, they finally cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the community's newest amenities. And its intended users didn't even notice.

Of course, that's because they're dogs.

Humans and canines alike enjoyed the grand opening event at Water Park, 1800 N. Barlow St. in Cornelius — albeit for very different reasons.

The dog park has been unofficially open for months, but the grand opening was an opportunity for community members and city officials to celebrate its completion — just as it was an opportunity for their dogs to sniff each other, roughhouse and run around.

"I think it's been good for the community," Jay Larson said of the new dog park. "I'm biased, but I think it's been great. We haven't had any major problems."

It's been a long road for Larson. He reflected on more than a decade he has spent advocating for and organizing the dog park project — a voyage that took him from being a concerned community member to serving as a member, and later chairman, of the city's parks and recreation advisory board, and then back again. His term on the parks board expired at the end of last year, although he is already thinking about reapplying for 2020.PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Louie checks out some of the raffle prizes at the grand opening of Cornelius' first off-leash dog park.

"I was a dog-owner up until the point when both of my dogs passed away. I pay attention to the rules and the laws," Larson said. "There was no safe place to let our dogs off-leash other than Thatcher Park in Forest Grove or Hondo Park in Hillsboro. So we actually had to leave our city limits to let our four-legged family members run around."

It took multiple tries for Larson to convince the parks board. Once he was appointed to the board and elected to chair it, he said, he was able to more effectively advocate for the dog park.

Nancy Arp, who now chairs the parks board, and Dave Schamp, who is president of the Cornelius City Council, were two of Larson's key allies in the effort. Together, they cut the ribbon to officially open the dog park on Saturday.

"I've noticed how many apartments and day workers that we have out walking their dogs," Arp said. "Walks are good. But we have a border collie that really needed to run that energy. … A healthy dog is a healthy owner, healthy family."

The dog park came together largely thanks to donations from individuals and businesses in Cornelius.

"It's been really encouraging to have so many community partners help us with this project," Larson said.

He added, "Nobody wanted to spend taxpayer money on it. … It was great being able to overcome those hurdles and find other sources of revenue to fund it."

Building the dog park was a group effort that unfolded over the past four years or so. Larson and others on the parks board rallied support from dog-owners in the community, Scout Troops 213 and 873, businesses, and other interested individuals who had time, money or both to give. Wilco, which operates a farm supply store in Cornelius, was a major donor. Arp worked on a series of calendars — featuring photos of "local dogs," she said with pride — that were sold to raise money.PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Bagel plays with a ball, with other dogs in tow, during the grand opening of the off-leash dog park in Cornelius.

The city contributed the land, free of charge, but not much else. Mark Crowell, director of public works, said Cornelius "just really didn't have the money" to spend on the dog park. But the land was practically unused, and it was already attached to a public park.

"It was just a weed patch," Crowell said.

While its contributions were limited, the city government has finally embraced the dog park. It will maintain it as a public facility at Water Park, which is owned by the city.

Crowell's public works crews even contributed what is sure to be one of the dog park's most popular features: a water fountain that looks like a fire hydrant, painted to resemble the black-and-white spotted fur of a Dalmatian.

"That's a drinking fountain … for humans, and it's got the twist on-off for it to fill your dog's dish," Crowell explained.

"We wanted to wait until we had water before we really did the formal grand opening," said Ryan Wells, Cornelius' community development director. "That's really an amenity that you have to have, if the dogs are going to be running around exercising — and also for people, too."

Cedar trees provide both shade for worn-out dogs and a visual buffer between the dog park and adjacent houses.

While the park might not look like much — it's little more than a fenced-in rectangle of grass lined on two sides by trees — it's perfect for letting dogs be dogs, as Larson put it.

"It's a safe environment for the dogs to play," he said. "It's a great place for the community to come together and socialize."

The off-leash dog park is open during regular park hours in Cornelius.PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The Cornelius Public Works Department provided a drinking fountain built to look like a painted fire hydrant with Dalmatian spots.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the Cornelius City Council president's last name in one reference. His name is Dave Schamp. The story has been corrected.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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