By Tori Hahn | SDCNN Intern
After more than a year of rallying and pressuring the city, Normal Heights community members were finally granted an off-leash dog park. The Ward Canyon interim dog park officially opened Saturday, Feb. 13 with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria.
The expansion of Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park, which sits on Adams Avenue just west of Interstate 15, will serve as a temporary dog park until the Parks and Recreation Department receives the full funding it needs to complete the project — almost $8 million. Plans for the completed expansion include a permanent dog park, a basketball court, a community garden and a community center.
“I’m sure you’re all aware that our long-term vision for this property is much bigger,” Gloria said. “But I also — looking around at all these dogs here — know you couldn’t wait until we amassed the millions of dollars that’s going to be necessary to actually build this vision as we want it to be for our community.”
Residents from all over the Mid-City area and their canines came out to enjoy the new park. While dogs enjoyed catching Frisbees and “marking their territory,” their owners participated in raffle drawings and socialized with other community members.
“Big dogs” weighing more than 25 pounds ran around on one side of the park, while the smaller dogs, separated by a fence, played on the other side.
“This is such a labor of love,” said Herman Parker, director of the Park and Recreation Department for San Diego. “This is what Park and Recreation is all about. It’s providing those quality facilities where we can all get out and recreate and enjoy the outdoors, and with this particular facility, enjoy our pets who are a part of our family.”
Officials said about one-sixth of San Diego’s dog population lives in the Mid-City area, which for years has left thousands of dogs with no local place to roam leash-free.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Normal Heights resident and dog owner Stephen Throop said.
It’s been almost three years since the Normal Heights Community Planning Group held a workshop in August 2013 in which residents pushed for an expansion of Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park.
In February of last year, the community held the Mid-City Unleashed Rally in which residents signed a petition to present to the city. Gloria described dozens of community and public meetings that many attended to express the need for a dog park in the Mid-City area.
Jessica Pasela is involved with the Normal Heights Community Association and has worked for years to rally the community to support a dog park.
“For years [I] have been driving 20 minutes away to go to a dog park and I know everybody there,” she said. “To have that with your actual neighborhood, it really does bring that sense of family for everybody.
“Having a place to … socialize makes the dogs happier, which makes the homeowners happier.”
Gloria thanked the city workers who made the park opening possible, but also recognized that there is still a long road ahead until the project is completed as planned.
“We know that our community wants and deserves more, and so we’re still a few years away from full-funded, but rest assured we are moving forward,” he said.
—Tori Hahn is an intern with SDCNN and a senior majoring in journalism at San Diego State University.