Dog lovers unite.
Supporters of all things canine will have the chance to help fund the county’s first dedicated dog park from 6-10 p.m. May 1 at the Richmond Hill City Center during the Bryan County Bark Park’s second annual Wine and Cheese Fundraiser.
For $50 per person, guests will get the chance to not only support a local dog park, but also experience a range of fine wines, savory cheeses and a variety of hors d’oeuvres. Tickets include all wine and food, and a cash bar will also be available for beer and mixed drinks, including a special “barktini” cocktail.
The event will include music by local musician Roger Widener. Silent and live auctions with one-of-a-kind items will take place, as well as a raffle.
Richmond Hill resident and Bark Park president Wendy Bolton said she discovered a dog park during a family vacation to Highlands, N.C., which included her golden retriever, Bailey. Bolton became inspired, desiring to have a dog park in her own town.
Bolton spoke with friends and fellow-dog lovers Lesley Francis and Jane Honnor, who are both British-born. Francis and Honnor, when arriving in the United States, were both surprised to find their dogs could not roam free throughout public parks like they can in the United Kingdom.
“Richmond Hill and South Bryan County are wonderful places to live and many area residents own dogs,” Francis said. “With leash laws, the opportunity for dogs to run and play safely off-leash doesn’t exist in our area. A dog park provides a safe place for dogs to run off-leash as well as socialize with other dogs.”
The three women agreed Richmond Hill needed a park for their four-legged friends, but they needed to know if others in the community felt the same way.
“We love living here and felt a dog park would make Richmond Hill an even more wonderful place to live,” Bolton said. “We decided to circulate a petition.”
Bolton said the group hoped to receive 500 signatures on the petition. In less than two months in 2012, the group had far exceeded that number with a total of 1,500 signatures of people who would support a dog park in the community.
The group completed the requirements to establish a nonprofit organization, including registering as a 501(c)3 — which, according to Bolton, can be a very daunting task with lots of paperwork. However, once it was completed, the Bryan County Bark Park Association was created.
“Our mission is to provide a dog park for the Richmond Hill area that is safe for families and where well-behaved dogs can be let off their leashes to run free and to ensure that the Bryan County Bark Park provides a well-maintained and clean environment for all responsible dog owners in our community,” Francis said.
The Bryan County Bark Park Association Board of Directors consists of Bolton as president, Honnor as vice president, Francis as secretary, Kim Stefan as treasurer, Jean Iaderosa as director and Steve Meyers as director. Aimee Harris acts as special advisor to the board.
The Bark Park Association appealed to the county for some dedicated land to build the dog park. However, they were told they would need to raise $10,000 before they county could grant any land to the cause.
“This was around mid-March (2013), and the county asked when we would have the $10,000,” Bolton said. “I said by May 1.”
In April 2013, the group held the inaugural Wine and Cheese Fundraiser and raised $12,000 for the future dog park.
“I took great delight in calling the county administrator on April 29, and telling him we had the money,” Bolton said.
“I won’t say I was surprised because I felt like we could do it, but you never know. It was our first big fundraiser, and with a new nonprofit you are never really sure how it will be received. We were very hopeful we would get the support we needed, and we did. It was amazing.”
The Bryan County Board of Commissioners granted 1.5 acres in Henderson Park for the dog park.
“Things have gained momentum, and the community support has been phenomenal,” Bolton said.
The board has put together several fundraisers since then. To date, they have raised $25,000, some of which has been spent on start-up and legal costs, a survey of the land, land clearing, tree removal, marketing and other general expenses to operating a nonprofit organization.
“Everyone on the board volunteers their time and has personally donated,” Francis said. “We need another $20,000 to complete Phase 1. We have to cover all costs.”
Currently, the board has had a survey of the land and clearing done. According to Francis, there is more site work to be done before the organization can begin fencing the area.
In addition, the park is required by the county to have a handicapped accessible walkway from the parking lot to the park itself, which is around 600 feet.
The Bark Park, once finished, will include a fence with a large dog area and separate small dog area. It will have a double-gated entry, a pavilion and plenty of benches, as well as an agility course and water feature for dogs to play in.
The board hopes to open the Bark Park this summer, but it will all depend on the success of the May 1 fundraiser.
Tickets for the Wine and Cheese Fundraiser can be purchased at the Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, PawParazzi Pet Boutique, Awakening Yoga Studio or on the website, bryancountybarkpark.com.