JAMIE POPPER

Visions of dogs running and playing, untethered, in the great outdoors at Horseshoe Pond Park dance in the minds of a committee that wants a dog park in Maquoketa.

However, the Maquoketa City Council wants to see more details about enforcement and funding before signing off on the project.

The dog park committee is part of Maquoketa’s Hometown Pride Committee, a statewide Keep Iowa Beautiful program. Hometown Pride’s purpose is to build a stronger community, restore pride through local image, and enhance economic and cultural vitality.

Adding a dog park to the city is one way to do that, attracting new, young people to Maquoketa, said committee member Jamie Popper, who said she has experience with dog training and management.

Committee members studied several sites around Maquoketa and settled on the plateau area where people camped with tents at Horseshoe Pond Park. A couple months ago the council voted to close the property to tent campers because of multiple discipline issues and lack of payment.

“The dog park will keep unwanted campers out of the area,” Popper told the council. 

“It is being used for dog walking. Further development of this area will enhance the benefit of the area,” she added.

The proposed site stretches from the Citadel building, up the hill and across the former camping area, then back down the hill to the pavilion on the banks of Horseshoe Pond. Entrances would be handicapped-accessible.

Surrounded by trees, the area would have a natural sound buffer to reduce any barking noise, and there are no nearby residences.

The dog park would be divided into two fenced-in areas, one for large dogs and one for small dogs.

Dog park benefits, according to the group, include:

ν Increased exercise opportunities for the pet community, which is supposed to keep dogs on a leash when in public

ν An additional park amenity, which could lead to more paid campers and additional revenue that could pay for park upkeep

ν Attraction of new and young residents to Maquoketa

Tentative park rules would relieve the city of liability for incidents that might happen there, according to Dog Park Committee members.

Owners would be required to remove dogs with signs of aggression, and they must remove their dog’s waste.

That rule – removal of dog excrement – kicked off a list of concerns from the council, Maquoketa Public Works Director Frank Ellenz, and Maquoketa Police Chief Brad Koranda.

Councilman Jacob Baker said rule enforcement would be nearly impossible as things stand today. Making owners pick up their dog’s excrement is not going to happen, he said, noting that dog owners do not pick it up while out walking on highly visible city streets. 

“It’s an honors system,” he said.

Ellenz also was skeptical.

“I can see where this is going, with us picking up the doggy-do,” he said.

But Mayor Don Schwenker, who said the dog park is a good idea, emphasized that he did not want Public Works members at the dog park scooping waste.

Dog Park Committee member Scott Warren said Public Works may be asked to help with projects such as clearing paths or building steps at the proposed park.

Councilman Ronald Horan Jr. agreed that a dog park would be valuable to the community, but said the Public Works staff is “stretched.”

Baker said the Dog Park Committee would also have trouble enforcing training requirements such only allowing dogs trained to obey voices.

Baker also wants the city to talk to its attorney about the city’s liability should a problem arise at the dog park.

Koranda voiced his concerns about the proposed location. He said lack of clear visibility of the park would make it difficult for officers to watch and increase the likelihood of misconduct in the area. He said the park is used by groups of people young and old, and noted that having dogs off leash that close to people “could cause problems.”

Committee members next plan to research capital costs and develop a list of fundraisers to pay those costs, according to Warren.

Under this initial plan, the city would pay for ongoing operating costs of the dog park as well as future capital expenses.

Funding also concerned Horan. He said the city’s existing parks are aging and need “very serious attention,” including new equipment.

The Dog Park Committee will determine those costs and bring them back to the city council and determine any other changes and rules as needed.

“It’s an opportunity to create a level of uniqueness,” Warren said.

Dog Park Committee members are Popper, Warren, Amy Moore, Jess Okon, Khristian Becker, Stephanie Sagers and Paulette Horner.

A Maquoketa veterinarian, Becker remained optimistic about the dog park.

“Overall I think it’ll be very good for our community.”