SPRING HILL — Efforts to complete Hernando County's first dog park got a shot in the arm this week when the Home Depot Foundation awarded the Rotary Club of Spring Hill Central a $10,000 grant.
The grant plus other money raised by the club will offset the expected $25,000 in impact fees the County Commission had fronted in November in order to finish the work.
A January opening is expected for the dog-park phase of the 8-acre Rotary Centennial Park, which is bounded by Sandlor Street, Portillo Road and Landover Boulevard in Spring Hill.
Completion of restrooms, striping in the parking area, sidewalk work and signs are all that stand between the park and the many eager pooches and owners expected to make the park a popular spot.
"I think it's going to be packed every day,'' predicted Pat Fagan, county parks and recreation director.
The county has already spent $50,000 for permitting and development at the park, one of more than 25 park sites around Spring Hill dedicated to the county by Spring Hill's developer Deltona years ago.
The park will include three fenced areas. One will be designated for small dogs and one for larger ones. The third area will be set aside for service dogs and for those not comfortable in the other areas. The open area of the park, which will eventually house future park development, will be available for those who want to walk their dogs on leashes, Fagan said.
The second phase of the park, which would include playground equipment, volleyball and basketball facilities, picnic tables and pavilions, is not currently funded and will have to wait until economic conditions turn around, Fagan said.
The Rotary Club has been working with the county for four years in developing the park. Hard economic times had made it more difficult to raise money recently and that is why Fagan sought impact fee funds from commissioners last month.
Fagan predicted that the park will not only be popular with dog owners but also with groups serving dog owners. And he noted that the park gives a place for groups like the county's Animal Services or the local Humane Society to hold events for the community's animal lovers.
Future development with amenities that could range from a lure course or agility equipment could come later after fundraisers and more discussion about what park users want to see, he explained.
Currently, dogs are not allowed at other county parks except for specially arranged events such as the Soggy Doggy Days that have run at Pine Island the last two years, Fagan said. Those events have been very popular.
As work on the park concludes, he added that his staff was also finalizing the set of rules that people will have to follow to continue to use the site including the requirement to pick up after pets and regulations about what vaccinations and other health assurances will be needed to access the park.
"It's a great project,'' Fagan said. And because of the Rotary Club's strong commitment, "it's not costing the county very much at all.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.