MCKINLEY PARK — The Southwest Side’s status as a dog-park desert will soon come to an end, with work now underway to bring a dog friendly area to McKinley Park.
Neighbors, dog park advocates and elected officials — and their dogs — gathered Saturday at the neighborhood’s namesake park for a groundbreaking for the dog park that has been in the works since 2014. It is slated for a late October opening.
Getting the dog park off the ground was the culmination of five years of hard work for area residents. In late 2014, a group of neighbors formed the McKinley Dog Park Advisory Council, seeking to bring the South Side its first official dog park.
It was not an easy road, group members said Saturday.
“We had no idea what we were getting into,” said Angie Robertson, who helped found the advisory council five years ago. Since then, she has had two children and moved from McKinley Park to Beverly.
“When I started this, my dogs were my babies. We knew it would be years, but we had no idea it would be this long.”
The McKinley Park group eventually succeeded in its efforts, but it will not be the first dog park on the South Side. That designation goes to the dog-friendly area in Calumet Park, which opened in June.
In both the McKinley and Calumet cases, neighborhood groups sought to bring to the South Side an amenity that is plentiful in other parts of the city. Of the city’s 25 dog parks, 22 are on the North Side, with two in the South Loop and one in the West Loop.
“We’re tired of driving our dogs to get their exercise and play time,” Robertson previously told Block Club. “It seemed kind of unfair.”
After years of having no sanctioned off-leash areas, the South Side could soon turn into a pup playground paradise. Aside from the McKinley and Calumet projects, dog parks are being considered for the Ag School in Mt. Greenwood and for a stretch of vacant land in Bridgeport. Bronzeville will also have three mini-dog parks after the City Council signed off on the measure last year.
The McKinley Park dog park almost didn’t happen, however.
After forming the dog park advisory council, the neighborhood group began to follow the city’s guidelines for creating a park, which stipulates that the group must find a location and then have neighbors, the park advisory council and park officials sign off on the site.
The McKinley group’s first few proposals were turned down. The group actually disbanded for some time, but it eventually got back together for another round of petitioning officials, including Ald. George Cardenas (12th).
A site close to Western Avenue and Pershing Road was approved, and Cardenas’ office worked with Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th) to use tax increment financing funds from a tax increment financing (TIF) district that borders both wards to be used for the dog park.
“It took a little bit of doing and being creative,” Cardenas said at the groundbreaking. “But it had to happen.”
The 12,000-square-foot McKinley dog park will be financed with $400,000 from two TIFs. The project may come in under budget, Robertson said, and any left-over funds will go towards amenities like a storage bin, dog baggie station and a small pool.
Meanwhile, the fundraising efforts the dog park council has undertaken — through selling merchandise at the park’s farmers market and through other means — will go towards maintenance and events.
“This was the result of many hard years,” said state Rep. Theresa Mah. “It was truly a community effort.”
The groundbreaking was attended by dozens of neighbors and their dogs, who paraded around the park before the ceremony. Eric Salinas of Pilsen came with his dog, Wrigley, an energetic 3-month-old doberman puppy.
As Wrigley grows, he will need an outlet for his energy. The McKinley dog park comes at perfect timing, Salinas said.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Now, we have a place to go, help him socialize. I’m excited.”
Dog park advisory members said they were excited at the turnout of the event, and said it showed what a community benefit dog parks can be — for dogs and their owners.
“It was a great community building situation for us,” said Carina Trudell, a founder of the advisory council who now heads the group. “When we started, none of us knew each other. We were from different areas, different stages of life.”
The group hopes the park can be a catalyst for future community building. If the park opens in time, the group is considering holding a Halloween party for their four-legged friends.
“Who doesn’t love seeing dogs in costumes,” Robertson said.
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