Through a serendipitous meeting of interests, the Victor dog park is suddenly the center of attention.
Alana Alfrey and her two dogs often visit the enclosure next to the baseball diamond at Sherman Park, and she has started to realize that many people in the area don’t even know it’s there. Or, if dog owners do stop by, they’re deterred by the lack of shade, the fencing repaired with zip ties, the wilting clusters of musk thistle.
“It could use a little sprucing up,” Alfrey said.
That’s why, in early October, she put out a query on social media: how do we fix the dog park?
She was stunned by the flood of responses, and quickly convened a get-together for the next evening. Around half a dozen people showed up on short notice and Alfrey could feel the momentum building.
“I saw a really positive reaction,” she said. “The ideas were flowing, but also we all had a great time getting together, and so we had the idea of dog park meet-ups at a designated time.”
A Facebook group formed and now includes 140 members. The group has hosted several Saturday dog parties, and sometimes up to 20 people show up. Many of those people bring multiple dogs, which is par for the course in Teton Valley, but Alfrey said the park hasn’t felt overcrowded yet.
“It’s been really wonderful,” she said. “Most dog owners here are very responsible, so there haven’t been any incidents.”
The dog park originally came about through similar citizen engagement; during Zach Smith’s tenure as mayor, a group of Victor residents fundraised to establish the park on the gravelly site of the former ice rink.
The park hasn’t been entirely forgotten through the years; this summer, public works director Rob Heuseveldt’s son Tomas was the latest in a series of Eagle Scouts to contribute his handiwork to the park, building a new agility ramp for the dogs. Mayor Jeff Potter participated in the 2019 Mayor’s Walking Challenge and earned $1,000 for health and recreation projects in the city. He decided to earmark that money for the dog park.
City administrator Olivia Goodale said that Alfrey’s timing was perfect; the city had already been gearing up to make some improvements to the park this fall, including repairing the fence and adding a western gate so that the park is more accessible in winter when the nearby pathway is plowed.
“It’s great to see there’s still this level of interest in the park,” Goodale said.
Responding to requests from the Facebook group, the city has started leaving the lights on in the park until 8 p.m. for evening dog gatherings, and will rotate one of the lights so it shines directly on the park.
PAWS of Jackson Hole, an animal welfare service nonprofit, soon got wind of the push for park renovations. Executive director Amy Moore explained that over the last five years, PAWS has been expanding to offer services in Teton Valley and Star Valley, including shelter support, free spay and neuter clinics, and an emergency medical fund. Enhancing the local dog park is another way that PAWS can support the Teton Valley community.
“Dog parks are a great place for proper socialization,” Moore said. “Parks are also good because they pull dogs off popular trails and pathways, and part of our mission is encouraging responsible dog ownership. We’re thrilled to be helpful and get involved over there in Teton Valley.”
Moore recently met with Goodale and together they walked around the park discussing possible improvements and funding opportunities.
Next on the docket is the addition of a separate area for small dogs so they can play without being bowled over by boisterous big dogs. Sometimes, Moore noted, big dogs in groups will take on a pack mentality and start viewing little dogs as prey, so having a small dog area is considered a best practice at parks. The city is working on it but might have missed the weather window; if so, the small dog area will be built next spring.
Some other proposals for improvements include turf, more landscaping, a water foundation, benches, and a higher fence so that the park is still usable in deep snow.
Goodale pointed out that nearly all the amenities at Sherman Park have come about through citizen initiatives or nonprofit partnerships; the youth baseball and softball association maintains and improves the diamonds, the mountain bike community built the bike park and cyclocross course, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways grooms the Nordic track, and, of course, the Kotler Ice Arena is now a beloved valley asset.
“Being a small government with a small budget and small staff, we find the most success through partnerships to propel these ideas forward,” Goodale said. “And a lot of good ideas walk through the doors at city hall.”
Alfrey said that dog parties will continue every Saturday at noon until the snow gets too deep, and to accommodate people who work on weekends, there will also be meet-ups on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. Find more information on the Facebook page Victor Dog Park (and don’t forget to pick up after your dog).