After 12 years, the Winchester dog park is now open to all.
As of Monday, the City has removed the membership requirement for dog owners to use the dog park at Jim Barnett Park.
Previously, dog owners needed to register their canine companions with the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation says the Department’s Assistant Director Matt Little.
“Eight or nine months ago, we really started looking at dog parks in and around the region and statewide as well,” said Little. “The research that we were finding was a lot of the dog parks were going free.”
City residents were charged $18, while non-residents paid $24 for annual access to the park. Owners would need to show proof of the dog’s city or county license, as well as up-to-date vaccinations in exchange for a key to the enclosures.
But Little says the amount of time the park was usable was cut into because of maintenance issues.
“You know, keys didn’t work, maintenance having to come out and look at the locks,” said Little, adding that it often took about ten days during the winter months to swap out the locks. ” And then really, the ultimate goal is to serve as many people as we can within the community.”
Little hopes that owners who typically wouldn’t use the park because of the fees will now visit, but not all of the current members are thrilled.
On Monday afternoon, Dan Shaner and his daughter’s dog Otis were at the park. Shaner, who has been bringing Otis to the park for the past two years, says he’s surprised to learn of the changes.
“It seemed to be working out alright,” said Shaner. He says he tries to bring Otis to the park when it’s less busy, and he worries open access will make trips to the park more crowded, especially with more aggressive or “frisky” dogs.
“It opens it up, there’s no limitation on–although the regulations prescribe ‘x’ number of dogs, you can’t bring in more than one, maybe two dogs,” said Shaner. “But no one probably pays that much attention to the regulation. So you don’t know, you could be here and it could be packed with dogs! And that’s not comfortable.”
But Little says the park won’t be going to the dogs. Dogs will still need to have a license at all times and all other rules already in place will stay.
Members of the Parks and Recreation Department will still be doing regular maintenance on the parks, and Little says he will personally visit the park to make sure patrons and their pups are following the rules.
As for Shaner and Otis, Shaner says if the park does get too crowded, he’ll simply take Otis for a walk around the rest of Jim Barnett Park instead.