Dog days ahead: One of York County's few pooch parks will close. But are more needed?

Mary Warner Mack Dog Park opens in Fort Mill

Ava, the dog owned by the late Mary Warner Mack, was the first dog to enter the new Fort Mill dog park at the Anne Springs Close Greenway named in memory of Mack, who passed away last summer at 23.
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Ava, the dog owned by the late Mary Warner Mack, was the first dog to enter the new Fort Mill dog park at the Anne Springs Close Greenway named in memory of Mack, who passed away last summer at 23.

One of the few dedicated places for dogs and their owners in three counties will close, and could stay closed for some time.

Tega Cay's Central Bark dog park sits among 10 acres owned by the city off New Gray Rock Road. The city property is part of what will be the more than 60-acre Catawba Park. Catawba Park will combine baseball fields, soccer fields, trails and more in what city leaders say will be a regional destination and signature city site.

Catawba Park will have a dog park, officials said, but building it will mean closing the existing one.

"The dog park will be closed," said Charlie Funderburk, city manager. "The overall site plan does call for a new dog park to be built, just in a different part of the (new) park."

Catawba Park should break ground next year. It may not be completed for three years, or up to a decade, depending on funding.

"The timing of how long there won't be a dog park here is unknown at this point," Funderburk said.

Whenever Catawba Park construction begins and Central Bark closes, it will mean one fewer option for dog owners. Right now, the closest site east of the Catawba River is the Mary Warner Mack Dog Park at the Anne Springs Close Greenway. That 12-acre dog park includes a mile of off leash trails, a lake and an area for small dogs, but requires a membership.

Rock Hill has Spencer Park, which opened an off-leash dog park in mid-2014. The city's first such dog park has an area for dogs 30 pounds or less, and an all-sizes area. Park admission is free.

Other municipalities like Clover and York don't have dog parks.

Central Bark is open to Tega Cay residents and non-residents alike. The 6,000-square-foot space has a yearly fee listed online, but the city isn't collecting it right now. Dog owners need only fill out an application at city hall with information on the animal.

"We're not charging anything right now," said Diana Vick, city facilities coordinator.

Dog parks tend to mirror population trends. The more densely populated an area, the more likely it is to have a dog park. An online search for Charlotte dog parks brings up a half dozen locations. An online search for Chester County brings up none.

Recent U.S. Census data shows the highest populations in York, Lancaster and Chester counties are in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Tega Cay. Non-municipalities with the highest populations are Indian Land and Lake Wylie. Rock Hill and Tega Cay have dog parks, while Lake Wylie is getting one with the construction of a 50-acre sports park on Crowders Creek.

Fort Mill is building a new sports park on land donated when the Waterside at the Catawba neighborhood arrived, which never involved a dog park in its drawings due largely to the Mary Warner Mack site.

"We do not have plans to include a dog park at Waterside," said Brown Simpson, town parks and recreation director. "We have actually not had any comments for one in the town limits since the Greenway offers one."

As for Indian Land, there isn't a public site despite a stated need for one.

"We have told our people that we need to have one, but so far no funding for it," said Hal Hiott, parks and recreation director for Lancaster County. "It basically boils down to having funding for them."

Dog parks in high population areas isn't just about small yards and fewer state parks or wooded areas. It also takes a significant tax base to fund a new park. In Lake Wylie, voters approved a new recreation tax district to get their sports complex and its dog park. The Charlotte Observer reported Pineville, N.C., dog park Canine Commons — itself not far from Fort Mill dog owners — cost $40,000 to create.

Yet high-growth areas have other funding needs. More people means more children, and space needed for youth sports. Programming for adults and seniors becomes a greater need with a greater number of them.

Hiott's group has been working on a bond proposal that, if approved by Lancaster County Council, could go before voters in a referendum this fall. The latest version is a $10.8 million bond with $4.5 million for an Indian Land rec center addition and $2.5 million for a soccer complex on Harrisburg Road.

"It's got to do more with taking care of needs we have right now," Hiott said.

That bond pitch doesn't include a dog park. Hiott said he knows of at least one within a residential development in Indian Land, but it's restricted to residents there. Hiott wouldn't be surprised to see more dog parks as the area grows and people think about their dogs more and more in their outdoor activities.

"Recreation has changed a lot," he said. "Some things that were popular before — tennis courts — people think a different way now."

In Tega Cay, the city recently went under contract to add a piece of property adjacent to Central Bark to Catawba Park. Closing could happen mid-summer. The city has two major funding priorities, a new police station and Catawba Park. Both are being engineered.

The police station is funded and should break ground this fall. Catawba Park has some money set aside, and the city set up the nonprofit Tega Cay Forever Foundation to work on generating more. The city could get its impact fee study back by July or August, with more options on how to pay for Catawba Park.

"Once the funding sources and mechanisms are all identified we'll be able to determine more accurately what the construction schedule will be for the park," Funderburk said.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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