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Largo to open dog park in March

(ran EAST, SEMINOLE editions)

Release the hounds!

In a move sure to have tails wagging around the city, the City Commission last week unanimously approved a $210,200 bid to develop a dog park in the little-used _ and somewhat hidden _ Northeast Park, which is on Lion's Club Road, off East Bay Drive.

The park's development has been much anticipated by dog owners such as Candy Parlee, who drives her golden retriever, Charlie, all the way to a popular dog park in Tampa.

"He just loves getting in there and running around with the other dogs," said Parlee, who lives in a condominium just a few blocks from Northeast Park. "It's very limited in the places I can take him. Larger dogs need their exercise."

It will be the only park in the city where dogs may roam unleashed. The park will include two fenced-in areas: a one-acre play area for large dogs and a half-acre play area for smaller dogs. There also will be a fenced holding area where owners can unleash their dogs when they arrive and then re-leash them when they leave.

The only other accoutrement will be a dog-activated water fountain. Actually, it's a fountain made for pigs, but it should serve dogs just fine, said Greg Brown, the city's recreation superintendent.

The city also intends to ask for donations from private companies to provide play equipment such as ramps, tunnels and hoops.

Largo is just the latest city to get on the dog park bandwagon. Other Pinellas communities that have, or are planning to build, dog parks include St. Petersburg, Indian Rocks Beach, Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs.

Plans for a dog park in Largo began to emerge in response to complaints about people allowing their dogs to run loose in Largo Central Park, Brown said. In the past eight months, city officials have been fielding about two calls a week from people asking for a dog park, he said.

"We think it's going to be pretty big," Brown said.

There will be other improvements at Northeast Park geared toward those more attuned to two -legged recreation. A lighted basketball court and a shelter to provide shade also will be built. In addition, the playground will be moved closer to the parking lot and expanded with new equipment.

For years, the park has been a well-kept secret.

"It has sort of been a hidden park," Brown said.

As such, it also tended to attract vagrants and became a place where kids went to "do what kids do when they sneak off together," Brown said.

In 1998 the city bought a defunct mobile home park on East Bay Drive, and the city will use that property to put in a higher profile entrance to the park.

The City Commission unanimously awarded the park contract to Eveland Brothers Inc. Construction is expected to be completed in March.

Of the seven members of the board, two are dog owners and one owns a cat.

"I think people are eagerly awaiting the dog park," said Commissioner Pat Gerard, one of the dog owners.

Dogs will be required to have their vaccinations and a valid dog tag. Bags will be available for owners to clean up after them.