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Observation Hill dog park proposal unleashes hot debate

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Bingo, a border collie-Labrador mix owned by Susan Catton of Hermantown, catches a flying disc while playing Tuesday afternoon at the Keene Creek dog park in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 5
Susan Catton of Hermantown throws a flying disc to her dog Bingo while playing Tuesday afternoon at the Keene Creek Dog Park in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 5
Susan Catton interacts with Bingo at Keene Creek Dog Park on Tuesday. (Clint Austin / / 5
At present, Duluth has only one park where residents can legally unleash their dogs: Keene Creek Dog Park. A Tuesday meeting gathered input on a proposed dog park at Observation Park. (Clint Austin / / 5

Kathy Bergen did yeoman’s work for the city Tuesday. After sending out 200 announcement letters in advance to residents in the neighborhood of Observation Park, the parks manager mediated a passionate hour-plus-long discussion between dog park advocates and dog park opponents at the Washington Center.

“This is a park that hasn’t received a lot of TLC over the years,” Bergen said.

One small group showed up wearing shirts that said, “Duluth Dogs Unleashed!” Another woman came with her leashed dog in tow and proceeded to strike a refrain that the park is a peaceful park of the people and no place for dogs.

“They’ve already got their minds made up,” the woman said, frustrated by the back and forth.

Before the former hockey rink at Observation Park can become a fenced dog park, it needs to clear votes in the Duluth Parks Commission and Duluth City Council. Bergen solicited further opinions to her city email account.

Bergen described the current state of the proposed dog park.

“It’s overgrown with weeds,” she said of the former rink, which is one portion of the park. “It needs cleaning up.”

Right now there is one dog park in Duluth — Keene Creek Dog Park.

Detractors of the dog park proposed for Observation Hill said it would be too close to mix with the children’s attractions at the park, that it would rob people of rare flat land on the hillside, and that the rink-size space is too small for dogs to stretch out and run anyway.

Advocates said there are plenty of people space for co-existence, that dog owners who use dog parks are generally responsible and attentive, and that if safety is the goal a vibrant and well-used park makes for a safer neighborhood.

Bergen refereed the meeting. She explained Observation Park was selected as a possible dog park by a task force featuring both citizens and city officials.

One woman said the first thing she does in a new place is look up the dog parks; St. Cloud has four.

One advocate urged people not to forget the focus: “A dog park is for the dogs. It’s about socializing and playing and making a happier dog.”

If the dog park is approved, Bergen said a community group would have to raise money and maintain the park.