Imperial Beach opens first off-leash dog park


Just before sunset these days, Sarah Gawronski, Nala and Lucien visit a new spot in Imperial Beach: the city’s first off-leash dog park, nestled in Veterans Park.

“They seem to enjoy it and almost expect to come here every day now,” Gawronski said of her 2-year-old dogs, Nala, a German Shepherd and Lucien, a Beauceron french shepherd.

The 18,500-square-foot dog park, with features that include a double-gated door and poop bag dispensers, opened late last month. Last week, more than 50 dog owners and their four-legged pets turned out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, city spokesman Ed Vera said.

“It was a long time coming for dog owners, Imperial Beach and our City Council,” said Mayor Serge Dedina. “It was great to see it finally come to fruition.”

For many residents, the $42,000 park was a necessity. In a survey that about 600 residents took between late 2015 and early 2016, a dog park landed No. 2 on a list of “needs not met” in Imperial Beach, Vera said.

“Every time I walked through here I thought it would be a good place for a dog park,” Jennifer Mayer said Tuesday, with her 3-year-old white Standard Poodle, Quill, gracefully at her side.

Mayer, Gawronski and other dog owners at the park said that before the new addition opened, the nearest off-leash parks were quite a drive.

“Before this, we were driving at least 20 minutes away for a dog park,” Gawronski said.

Now, the fenced-in, grassy park — located south of the soccer field in the larger city-owned and central park on Eight Street — is just a walk away for many residents.

“It’s been wonderful meeting, besides other dogs, other owners,” Gawronski said.

She and other residents said their encounters at the new park have been positive so far.

“Owners here have been very respectful about doing the normal dog things,” like picking up after their pets, said Matthew Steinkamp, who walks to the park with his 4-year-old black Labrador, Rudy, two or three times a week.

For dogs, the social interactions are important, dog owners said.

“Meeting new dogs, smelling new dogs, leaning how to properly behave — that’s really huge for them,” Gawronski said.

The idea of a dog park was broadly supported by neighbors when city staff discussed it with them last year, Vera said. The spot already had been frequented by dogs and their owners for some time.

The city considered three other locations for the new park, but each spot presented a challenge. At Bayside Elementary School, officials were concerned the dog park would be too disruptive for students. A proposed site near San Diego Bay is home to an Indian burial ground. And the third spot, east of the Silver Strand in Coronado, is owned by the Navy.

Veterans Park was chosen in November of last year as the home for the dog park, which was payed for by the city’s general fund.

“It’s a great addition,” Steinkamp said. “I appreciate taxpayer money is making life better in Imperial Beach”

In the next month or so, the city plans to install benches, a water fountain for dogs, trash cans and more green welded wire fencing on the south end of the park, Vera said.