Marla Larson can’t collect paw marks on her petition for a dog park in Liberty Lake — but she’s already amassed around 300 signatures from humans enthused about the idea.
While Liberty Lake is known for its healthy abundance of trails, parks and open space, Larson says the community still lacks a dedicated site for canines to roam. Research shows that around 50 percent of households in the greater Spokane area include dogs — the fourth highest ratio in the U.S.
“I’ve always wanted a dog park in Liberty Lake,” said Larson who has lived in the area since 1986 with her husband Steve. “I’m hopeful we’re headed in that direction.”
Larson has already appeared at a City Council meeting to pitch the concept and met at City Hall with Council Member Odin Langford and City Administrator Katy Allen. Council is scheduled to revisit the discussion at its next meeting Sept. 17. Allen said the conversation is “still in the very preliminary stages.”
“Is there a need for a dog park and is it a priority?” Allen stated. “Those are questions for the council to address. From the city’s standpoint, it’s not just the cost of building it, it’s the cost of operating and maintaining it.”
The closest public dog park to Liberty Lake is a sprawling space near the state line overseen by Spokane County. On a sunny Saturday this month, Doug Walton of north Spokane let his Labradoodle “Gracie” run across the ruddy turf amidst a dozen or so other dogs.
“I like this place,” Walton said. “It’s small enough where I can sit here and see where she’s at.”
When told of the growing momentum for a dog park just to the west, Walton was on board.
“I’d be all for a dog park in Liberty Lake,” he said.
Others have less-than-glowing reviews of the state line park, particularly related to the topic of aggressive dogs. Larson said she was “kind of nervous” taking her two dogs, “Libby” and “Ollie” there.
Mara Crowell, co-owner of Pawpular Companions, a Liberty Lake-based pet supply store, has joined Larson in her campaign. She has heard the concerns about the state line site from customers and says the subject of dog parks in general includes “a lot of grey area.”
“I told Marla we’re here to support her as the local contact for animals,” Crowell said. “Some people are absolutely for it and some are absolutely against it. There are issues like cleanliness and responsibility and dogs interacting with other dogs who may not be vaccinated.”
Crowell acknowledged that a dog park would not be a money generator for the city like a golf course but said there could be other avenues for revenue like charging a fee for use or a membership card for dog owners. She said the store could also sponsor potty pick-up bags.
Allen said a proposal for a dog park at Pavillion Park came up around seven years ago but fizzled when a group of residents near the greenspace voiced concerns.
“The challenge we have with a dog park is where do you put it?” Allen said. “Land in Liberty Lake is very expensive. If it does become a priority in our capital facilities plan then we need to unprioritize something else.”
Larson says she knows many residents who take their dogs to fields at local schools. The city requires that visitors to municipal parks keep dogs on leashes.
Allen pointed to property on the north side of the city in the River District that may emerge as a dog park possibility. Greenstone Homes owns the land which is overseen by the local homeowner’s association.
“It’s the only place to this point where there has been some support in a very preliminary way,” Allen said.
Larson said collaborating with a private developer is an option.
“That could happen,” she said. “We’re not talking about a big space here, probably an acre, maybe two.”
Shannon Wesche of Liberty Lake is a veterinarian who supports Larson’s efforts.
“Dog parks are a good way for dogs to socialize,” Wesche said. “The biggest benefit is just to let dogs off their leash and run legally. Obviously, the exercise they get has its own benefits that we all know of.”
Larson is now in the process of forming a committee of residents and local leaders that will look at different approaches and strategies for a dog park.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic it will happen,” she said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”