The popular Vero Beach dog park received good news last week when Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls told its administrators that the city’s planned marina expansion would not impact on the dog park as initially feared.
When the first draft of the marina plan showed that a considerable portion of the south end of the dog park was taken for a new road, park president Robert Joy, along with council members Penny Chandler and Jill Jones, met with Mayor Robbie Brackett, City Manager. Monte Falls and Marina Manager Sean Collins on March 22 about the plan.
Dog park officials produced a copy of the park’s original rental agreement along with their investigation and reported the trespassing.
City officials acknowledged the error, promising that the marina master plan would be amended to relocate the proposed road so as not to encroach on the dog park’s existing boundaries.
“There will be no physical impact to the phase one marina improvements dog park,” Falls wrote to Joy to confirm that the city consultant would modify the plan as discussed.
“We look forward to the successful completion of marina improvements in a manner acceptable to the dog park and the majority of the community,” Falls wrote.
Then on Saturday morning, Collins joined the dog park volunteers for a follow-up meeting. “The city was very responsive and quickly corrected any discrepancies in the marina master plan site work,” said Joy.
Vero Beach Dog Park was founded in 2014 by resident Jim Welles who has since moved on, Joy said. Five acres adjacent to the municipal marina have been leased by the City of Vero Beach to Vero Beach Dog Park, Inc.
A few years later, after the nonprofit group proved it could successfully improve, manage and maintain the park, the city agreed to renew the leases until 2034.
Visitors now call it the “Beverly Hills of Dog Parks” due to its well-planned design and prime location on the island along the Indian River. Fences, landscaping, chairs and benches are strategically placed to welcome visitors and safely contain dogs. Two pavilions and sun sails provide the necessary shade. Several water fountains and trash bag stations are located throughout, and a new lawn has recently been added.
Dog park board member Dr Jen Wortham said there had been “a 40 per cent increase in ridership over the last year”.
She attributes this to improvements in the construction of the park and the groups’ recent involvement in social media. The new official Instagram page called “verobeachdogpark” and the Facebook page named “Vero Beach Dog Park” have increased awareness of the park and serve to educate the public about the rules and regulations of the park.
Quick-response square barcodes known as QR codes have been displayed in the park for visitors to scan into their mobile phones to report dog park incidents confidentially.
A donor box is placed prominently at the entrance to the park and donations are used to subsidize improvements. Joy said he was proud that “no taxpayer dollars are used to maintain the park.” All utilities, liability insurance, mowing and litter removal costs are covered by private donations. “There is no charge to visit this park,” he said.
The park is divided into three sections: dogs under 30 pounds, dogs over 30 pounds, plus an area for older or disabled dogs. A new viewing area has recently been created at the south entrance to accommodate guests who may not have pets but would like to visit and watch the canine frolics.
Joy said he “has informed Vero Beach Assisted Living that all residents of the city are welcome to visit the dog park.”
Parking spaces have recently been constructed with pavers to facilitate vans and disabled wheelchairs. A covered area with benches has become a welcoming place to watch the dogs and visitors interact, providing another inclusive recreational activity for the public.
Joy proudly recounted that the dog park has been a haven for the public during the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Visitors could leave their homes, come sit in the fresh air with their pets, visit friends, and still follow CDC guidelines.
During the pandemic, he said, many heartwarming stories have occurred. People have formed strong friendships. Some have become travel partners. A visitor brought a reclusive elderly neighbor to the park who had lost interest in life. She had been an artist. She quickly regained her interest in art and became a dog portrait painter.
Boaters moored in the adjacent marina are also grateful for the amenities offered by the dog park. It’s an easy walk for marina guests through a path near the docks, making the dog park a major draw for marina guests.