Sharpsburg councilor leads off-leash dog park

A newly elected Sharpsburg city councilwoman is pitching in with an idea she thinks will benefit residents and their four-legged friends.

Carrie Tongarm is working on setting up an off-leash dog park in the borough. It’s a project that’s been gaining momentum since 2018, when she first moved to the riverside town.

“During the pandemic, I realized how much my dogs, and I, would benefit from getting out and running around freely,” Tongarm said.

She also heard from many residents interested in the project.

Councilor Kayla Portis said people had expressed her desire for a dog park for years.

“I would love to see that vision come true,” she said.

Portis said her family’s beloved poodle, George, died last fall. The family would love to welcome another four-legged friend into the house – and they would enjoy space for him to run and play.

She said a dog park would also create potential for human socialization.

“It would create opportunities for community engagement and health benefits, she said.

Tongarm’s family owns three rescue dogs. She said it’s sometimes difficult to manage the three on a leash and going for walks isn’t always challenging enough for them.

“Having a local park where they can run around and socialize with other puppies would be amazing,” she said.

In the coming months there will be planning sessions focusing on location and design if council gives the green light to the project.

“I’ve seen Kennedy Park’s large open space remain underutilized 99% of the time and have often wished for an off-leash dog area there,” Tongarm said.

The park is largely unused unless there is a festival or event, and even then crowds rarely fill the space, she said.

Tongarm is considering seeking the advice of animal welfare professionals.

Council member Jon Jaso said he was supportive of the idea, but had concerns about the appropriate location.

“Everyone wants a dog park, but no one wants one near them,” Jaso said.

“Borough property is scarce and used for public parks and open spaces. We can’t just take someone’s vacant lot and say, “Here’s your dog park.

Jaso also asked who would maintain the off-leash area.

“If someone wants to donate a large property, fence it off and then maintain it, then great, let’s create a dog park,” he said.

“Until then though, we have a very tight budget for next year and beyond.

Tongarm said fencing, gates and signs would be an upfront cost, but Kennedy Park already has dog waste bags and trash cans so that expense doesn’t change. She plans to bring in city planners to weigh in on designs that could include play structures, shade screens and resurfacing materials if the area is prone to mud.

“I would also like to make sure that there is no additional burden on our public works department with regard to cleaning or maintenance,” she said.

“The benefits of having a year-round community gathering space outweigh any impact on special event space. Dog parks are community spaces that enhance the neighborhood and encourage camaraderie among neighbors.

Tawnya Panizzi is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected] or via Twitter .