The Mill River Park dog park was not meant to be permanent. Stamford pet owners convinced them to keep him.

STAMFORD – The scorching days of summer have arrived. So are efforts to revamp the space at Mill River Park so pups can run and play off-leash.

The dog enclosure opened about three years ago in a part of Mill River Park that is still under development. The space on Washington Boulevard adjoins the area where Alive at Five concerts take place.

After hearing from frequent users of the dog park, the Mill River Park Collaborative launched a page on its website to raise funds for improvements like installing new stone material for dogs to run on and adding a pathway to make the space more accessible for people with disabilities.

“We didn’t necessarily plan for this to be the park’s permanent location,” said Nette Compton, president and CEO of the nonprofit Mill River Park Collaborative, which manages the downtown park. town. The idea was rather to “see how it goes”.

“Turns out this really is the best place for bark park,” Compton said.

For one thing, “we have some of the densest housing along this part of the park,” Compton said. The section of Washington Boulevard between Broad and Main streets is home to two skyscrapers, Park Tower Stamford and Vela on the Park.

And as many people have adopted a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic, use of the dog park has only increased, she said.

Tonje Gjorven, or “TJ”, who lives near Mill River, and Elsa Mekonen, who has seen the park transform over the years since the West Main Street family business, became friends through the dog park.

They got their pets after the pandemic started, just like millions of other americans. As their dogs, Cavapoos named Luna and Boba, spent time together in the park, Mekonen said he noticed several hazards, including small pieces of rubber mixed in with the gravel and benches in need of repair.

They then discovered that the Mill River Park Collaborative was looking to create a permanent dog park elsewhere, potentially on Greenwich Avenue south of Richmond Hill Avenue.

“We thought it might be a great place,” Compton said. “It’s underutilized. You are close to (Interstate) 95, so no one is going to complain about noise from (the) dog park with the freeway right there.

But users of the current dog race, like Mekonen and Gjorven, wanted it to stay in place and get improvements. So they launched an online petition.

“Stamford has seen a huge increase in transplants to our city, especially in the downtown and surrounding areas, many of which own dogs and take advantage of the convenience of having a dog park within walking distance,” the statement says. petition.

The population of downtown Stamford grew by more than 3,300 to a total of 6,850 between 2010 and 2020, according to US Census Bureau data.

Although dog owners can walk their pets in Mill River Park, they must keep their dogs on a leash. In the fenced dog park they can run around freely.

“Going for a walk is great, but there’s nothing more satisfying than having your dog run endlessly and then pass out,” Mekonen said.

They can also socialize with other dogs – and their owners can socialize with each other too. Passers-by and families with children also stop here to watch the dogs.

“It creates a community. … It creates a welcoming spirit,” Mekonen said.

Eventually, they made contact with Compton, who became the head of the Mill River Park Collaborative earlier this year.

“We listened to them,” Compton said. Now designers are incorporating the dog park into plans for the area along Washington Boulevard.

“But what we also recognize is that the permanent space has yet to be designed, authorized. We need to raise funds to build it,” Compton said. “We are maybe three years away from building this permanent space, which as we all know is 21 years in dog years.”

Until then, the plan is to give the existing dog park a “refresh,” she said.

This includes replacing gravel with river rock, which is easier on dogs’ paws and better for drainage, repairing fences, and even adding a water fountain. The site’s broken benches have been replaced, but the hope now is to have plastic benches, which an excited dog could bump into without injury.

Depending on the fundraiser, an agility course and shade structure could also be installed in the park.

“Basically we’re doing this fundraising ourselves with support from the park,” Mekonen said.

Instead of buying all new equipment, Mekonen and Gjorven said they plan to reach out to nearby businesses and towns to see if they have any additional or used materials that could fit in the park.

The donation form for the dog park includes suggested amounts ranging from a “good scratch level” of $10 to an “attaboy/attagirl level” of $100. Supporters can also sign up to receive information about volunteer opportunities to help beautify the park. And on October 15, Mill River Park will host luckypawloozaa fundraiser for Lucky Dog Refuge in Stamford and the dog park.

“It’s really a small-donation-big-amount kind of effort,” Mekonen said. “And then hopefully our goal is also to get a few larger donations that could act as quid pro quos so that people are more motivated to give a little more.”

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