Changes eyed for South Surrey off-leash park ‘take away from dogs’

Parks manager says posted changes to South Surrey’s Dogwood Park are not a done deal.

Signs that have appeared at South Surrey’s Dogwood Park suggest that off-leash dogs will soon lose a sizable chunk of the green space’s north end.

And that has provoked a chorus of concern from dog owners.

The City of Surrey signs, describing a ‘Dogwood Off-Leash Area Fencing Improvement’ also state – prominently – that the work is planned for completion in “Summer 2015”.

Dog owners say that suggests the fencing – shown superimposed on a satellite photo in the posters – is a fait accompli.

Newton resident Jennifer Green, who frequently brings her dogs to the park, said the planned changes will not be an “improvement,” and will result in the loss of off-leash access to as much as a third of the trails in the woods.

Surrey parks manager Owen Croy insists, however, that the fencing is “not a done deal.”

“I want to assure readers the city is in the process of consulting with the community,” he told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

“The work is not imminent. We’ve posted signs that show how people can get information on the city’s website and leave their comments. We want to get people’s feelings on how this would work. We’re seeking feedback on how fencing in the park could be modified.”

Rationale for fencing, he said, is to minimize the possibility of confrontation between unleashed dogs and the walkers, runners and cyclists using the Huntington-Bridlewood Greenway at the north end of the park, which is located between 134 and 136 Streets, north of 20 Avenue.

Croy said that the move is not a response to specific incidents, but is designed to lessen the chance that walkers, runners and cyclists will be discouraged from using the trails as a result of the presence of unleashed dogs.

“Good fences make for good neighbours and good parks,” he said, adding that the idea is to have “safe and useful” areas for both dog owners and others using the system of linear parks, which also includes Chantrell Park.

He added that the final location of fencing – which would include two double gates – is still to be determined.

Croy said he was not surprised by the reaction from dog owners, who, he said, are always vocal in support of their pets.

“We are always pleased to work with the dog community – that’s why we’re asking them for their opinion.”

There was no shortage of opinion on the planned changes among dog owners Tuesday afternoon at the park.

“They’re taking away from the the dogs,” South Surrey resident Wendy LeLacheur said. “This is the only decent area that dogs can be off-leash and run.”

Green said she travels to the park with her dogs twice daily and has done so since 1993. She noted her husband, Chris, who passed away last July, was heavily involved with the Friends of Dogwood Park, which fundraised for many of the improvements there today.

“Dog people have paid money to get the park to where it’s at,” added Monika Kohr, describing it as “probably the best-used park in Surrey.”

“It’s a wonderful place,” said Lois Millman. “It’s not going to work with less space.”

South Surrey’s Clayton MacKay brings his sheepdog, Molly, to the park, and said it draws more than just a local crowd.

“People come from all over to use this park,” he said.

MacKay estimated only “one or two” cyclists use the park, and said the planned changes “just don’t make sense.”

“The minority of the users are the ones that are being heard,” said Kohr, who is also a South Surrey resident.

Croy countered Wednesday, however, that the intention is to make the park work for all potential users, regardless of who is in the majority or who is in the minority.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It’s not a numbers game.”

He also said he was unaware of any agreement – cited by Green and fellow dog owner Pat MacKenzie of South Surrey – in which the land was bequeathed to the city specifically as a dog and horse park.

Croy, who has worked with the city for 23 years, said he believes the notion of such an agreement is an “urban legend.”

He noted that the park evolved into an off-leash dog park as earlier equestrian use – it was originally home to a riding ring – has diminished over the years.

Tom Hastie, chair of Surrey’s Outdoor Services committee and an avid runner, learned of the plans Tuesday afternoon, while jogging through the park. Dog owners stopped him to ask if he ever had an issue with dogs during his runs.

“Not usually,” Hastie said. “This is Dogwood, it’s designated – we (runners) all know that.”

“This is news to me,” Hastie added of the plan, noting he intended to bring the issue up at the committee’s next meeting, which was to take place Thursday evening (May 14).

– with files from Tracy Holmes

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