Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Queens County dogs have been enjoying a little more freedom since the county's first off-leash dog park officially opened August 10 in Milton.
Nineteen months in the making, the facility has been named the Jack Fancy Dog Park and Community Trail, after the park's namesake spent numerous hours on the project, alongside the Queen's Community Dog Park Association (QCDPA).
The president of the QCDPA's board of directors, John Simmonds, said it has been a long, tough journey, but he and his volunteer board are excited to see the gates open.
"I felt a lot of relief. It had been very frustrating to get to this point. We had to constantly encourage each other to make sure it was going to happen," he said. "We stayed the course, in large part due to Jack's effort and we were able to make it a go. It has been a big success and we are very pleased at the outcome."
Among the challenges they faced were not being able to secure a corporate sponsor and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fenced-in park is about 800 feet in diameter and encompasses the former ball field beside the Milton swimming pool.
The land is owned by the Milton Community Association, but the QCDPA has now signed a 20-year lease with the association.
A trail around the perimeter of the fence was cleaned, giving dog walkers a chance to meander through the woods.
The park is a members-only facility which was decided upon after more than 200 people showed interest by signing up on Facebook. Out of that number, close to 40 people became paid members. Simmonds said since the opening they have almost doubled that number.
"As they say, build it and they will come. We hoped that will be the case," said Simmonds. "People can now see the park, they now feel comfortable in taking their dogs there and have discovered how easy and convenient it is to give their dogs exercise."
He adds that as people become members, they become invested in the facility and are more likely to take pride and take on more of an ownership role.
The mayor of the Region of Queens Municipality, David Dagley, hailed the addition to the area.
"It was a great effort by the association and a good news story. I am pleased we have this facility in Queens for dogs and their owners to enjoy."
The idea for a dog park came about in January, 2019, when Fancy organized a meeting to gauge interest in a dog park at the site which had not been used for a long time.
From that meeting, a five-member board of directors was formed to pursue the project. Work soon began on sponsorship drives and fundraising events.
"This was a lot tougher than we originally thought, because money is pretty tight now-a-days," said Simmonds, adding they were looking for a major sponsor as well.
That never materialized, however people made donations and held fundraisers, including a benefit hockey game, silent auction and bottle collection. A father-and-son team took the initiative of making and selling planters with proceeds going to the park.
Altogether, more than $7,000 was raised through fundraising efforts, while the Region of Queens Municipality chipped in nearly $5,000 from its Community Investment Fund and Nova Scotia Trails also contributed funds.
"This was all done by volunteers and I think we have a park comparable to anywhere," enthused Fancy. "Working through the COVID times and without any major sponsors I think it is commendable what we have going here."
However the work is far from over, according to the organizers who are looking for volunteers to help maintain the site. And future plans include a water station, better shelters, more trees and lights.
Those wanting to become members can go to the QCDPA's Facebook and leave a message. The cost is $25 per year, or $100 for a five-year Charter membership. Founding members pay $250, which includes a 10-year membership.