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Paw Point off-leash dog park off to running start at Robert E. Lee

Paw Point Dog Park was more than 11 years in the making, and just a few months after the new dog park at Robert E. Lee Park opened with much fanfare, more than 500 dog owners have registered to use the park, making it a popular spot for patrons with both four and two legs.

"I love it," said Theresa Adkins of Pikesville, who brings her dog, Janie, to the park as many as five times a week. "It's large, well-kept, and people pick up after their dogs."

Adkins was one of a few faithful dog owners who braved near-freezing temperatures on Jan. 4 to give her dog a bit of exercise at Paw Point, a fenced, 1-acre, off-leash dog park located within Robert E. Lee, near the intersection of Falls Road and Lake Avenue.

She said she found the park by chance, and ultimately decided to register to give Janie a place to play every day.

Mary Ellen Earley-Massi, another of Wednesday's brave souls who brought her bulldog mix, Maci, to the park, said she previously would take her dog to Druid Hill Park, which is close to her Hampden home.

Having seen "how beautiful" the park at Robert E. Lee was, however, she joined Paw Point and tries to bring Maci there two or three times per week.

Both owners were obedient of the county's strict leash laws, which wasn't always the case at Robert E. Lee.

Off-leash dogs are illegal in Baltimore County, but before the park's $6.1 million renovation that included the new dog park, dogs often freely ran across the park.

Jeff Budnitz, a board member for the Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council, who began advocating for the dog park in 1999, said the off-leash dog issue at Robert E. Lee was its "singular Achilles heel."

"The majority of the park was not being used by conventional park patrons because of that issue," said Budnitz said, who said dog droppings used to be noticeable throughout the park.

Creation of the formal dog park has emerged as a solution to the long-standing problem.

"I think it's been hugely successful," Budnitz said. "People have been very conscientious. That odor does not exist any more, and I think that's a byproduct of people responsibly picking up after their dogs."

When the park first opened, Budnitz said they were inundated with applications for membership, which allow access for two dogs for just $35. However, with winter setting in, applications have begun to slow.

Spreading the park movement

The early success of Paw Point is good news for those seeking a place to let their dog run off-leash, but its effect on efforts to create dog parks elsewhere — including Rodgers Forge and Loch Raven — remain to be seen.

Budnitz was enlisted by County Councilman David Marks to speak at a meeting in early December attended by representatives from three communities in Marks' district that want a dog park of their own — Rodgers Forge, Loch Raven and Perry Hall.

Kathie Kolish, a Rodgers Forge resident, spoke up at a recent Rodgers Forge Community Association meeting about the need for a place for dogs to run free in the Forge, after a young girl was ticketed for having her dog off-leash.

The Rodgers Forge board asked her to spearhead a committee and gather information about putting a dog park in their neighborhood, and she and Marks walked the grounds of Rodgers Forge Elementary and Dumbarton Middle School one morning to scope out locations for a dog park on the school's grounds, which represent the only possible locations in the community, according to Kolish.

Kolish said various obligations have kept her away from visiting or joining Paw Point just yet, but she believes there's plenty of interest in a place like Paw Point within the Rodgers Forge community where dogs could run free.

Open space constraints in Rodgers Forge, however, make a dog park difficult, and issues with parking, landscape, and liability essentially caused a proposed park there to stall before it even began.

That said, the Rodgers Forge Community Association is inviting residents with ideas to share them at the group's next meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 7 p.m., at Rodgers Forge Elementary School.

Though Paw Point boasts a lake access that Hannah Moore — Baltimore County's only other dog park — and other potential sites cannot, Adkins said she has met owners whose dogs are enrolled to use both.

And she said if there were even more options in the area, she wouldn't mind giving her dog a bit of variety — especially in the summertime, when Adkins worried good weather will turn the dog park into "chaos."

Saturdays, even in the winter, are "pretty packed," Adkins said.

Though Hannah Moore and Paw Point have similar registration numbers, Budnitz said a key question officials have to face is how the addition of more dog parks might affect membership of existing parks.

"I have no way of statistically correlating how many members did we, per se, 'take' from Hannah Moore," Budnitz said. "If Rodgers Forge opened one, how many would we lose to them?"

Still, given the short period of time in which the dog park at Robert E. Lee jumped from zero to 500 dogs, he sees a "pent-up demand" for such facilities across the city and county.

"You have 1,000 dogs that are members of a dog park in District 2 alone," Budnitz said of the overall registrations of Hannah Moore and Robert E. Lee.

"The reason I spoke (at the RFCA meeting) … was really from an advocacy standpoint," he said "I think minimally, you could have a dog park in every district."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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