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PAXTON — Angie Russell and her husband, Jon, work in Urbana, so they regularly take their two dogs to exercise at the dog park in that city, located about 27 miles from their home in Paxton.
But if it was up to the Russells, their twice-a-week trips to Urbana with their 2-year-old American fox hound mixes, Rascal and Lily, would be replaced by daily trips to a dog park in Paxton.
“Everyone’s excited about it,” Angie Russell said about the idea of opening a local dog park.
The Russells, along with Patty Johnson, owner of the Animal House pet salon on Market Street, have already received approval from the city council to move forward with their plan to open a 1-acre dog park near Interstate 57, on the city’s long-closed landfill property immediately west of the Paxton airport.
But the project has yet to become reality because the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has yet to approve it. Mayor Bill Ingold said the IEPA needs to sign off on the project because of the presence of two feet of compacted clay that serves as a “cap” for the former landfill, and the need to drill holes in the ground to install fencing at the site.
The landfill, closed for more than 15 years, is capped officially and properly, but the site is still being monitored for methane gas. Ingold said the city is particularly concerned about disturbing the clay cap on the south end of the property, where it appears posts may have to be installed where two landfill trenches are located.
“We have to be cautious when we drill posts into the ground on the south end” Ingold said, “because it may get into where the trench was, and we don’t want to do that.”
Meanwhile, the east, west and north ends of the park are far enough away from the trenches that no disturbance of the cap is expected, Ingold said.
The city’s engineer, Michael Streff, as of this week was awaiting word from the IEPA on whether the city can move forward with the dog park at the former landfill, Ingold said.
“The council supports” the project, Ingold said, noting that citizens “really don’t have any other options for places we can go” in Paxton to walk dogs without a leash.
If plans fall through to have the dog park at the former landfill, there might be other places that a dog park could be set up, though. Johnson, who also is helping organize the dog park with the Russells, said she thinks Coady Park and Bixby Park, both located on Paxton’s east side, would be ideal alternative sites.
“We have our sights set on several locations and are quite confident something will become available in the very near future,” Johnson said. “We are hoping to secure a 1-3-acre lot with water and waste facilities available on site.”
The Russells and Johnson earlier this year discussed with the Paxton Park Board the possibility of using a field on the east side of the park district-owned Coady Park for a dog park. However, the board made no decision on the proposal because it wanted to get a variety of other projects it was pursuing at the time completed first.
Park Board President Eric Evans said Monday that he wants the board to reconsider the possibility of a dog park at Coady Park, though. Evans brought up the idea for discussion at the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.
“We have a lot of ground out there (on the east side of the park), and we’re always talking about wanting to do stuff with it,” Evans said Monday. “Well, talk is cheap. I’m going to bring it up (Tuesday) evening and say that I think we might need to look into this.”
Evans said no decisions were made Tuesday.
“It’s been tabled until next month’s meeting, for possibly more discussion or even a vote at that time,” Evans said.
Wherever the dog park is located, Evans said he feels such a place is needed for pet owners in town.
“The thing, I guess, that’s really brought my eye back to the subject is that I’ve gone by the schools and I see people walking their dogs through the school yards ... and I’ve seen dogs go to the bathroom and their owners not pick it up,” Evans said. “I think it’s very needed, and I think it would be used more than people realize. You wouldn’t be tearing the schools up, tearing the parks up.”
Evans said the idea of a dog park near the interstate would work, but he thinks that the dog park, ideally, would be more centrally located in Paxton. Not only would local residents not have to drive as far to get to the dog park, but having a centrally located dog park would help ensure that the dogs there are, for the most part, owned by Paxton residents, rather than travelers on I-57 whose dogs may not be vaccinated correctly as required by Paxton’s ordinances.
Angie Russell said she has no preference on where the dog park ends up.
“We would be willing for anything,” she said. “The park district (grounds) would be great. If they can do it by the airport, that would be great. We would be open to any possibilities.”
Russell said she thinks the dog park would be well-used. There are more than 1,200 dogs registered in Paxton, Russell said.
The dog park would be a large, fenced-in area where dogs could run off-leash while their owners socialize with other dog lovers.
Currently there is nowhere in Paxton that provides this opportunity.
“There isn’t anywhere close by to take your dogs to exercise safely off-leash,” Johnson noted.
Johnson added that there have been many complaints about dogs and dog droppings at such places as Glen Cemetery, Pells Park and school playgrounds.
“Many people also walk their dogs in Majestic Park uptown, leaving deposits along the way,” Johnson said.
The dog park would ideally help relieve some of the problems, Johnson said. It would also be an “excellent resource to encourage positive, responsible pet ownership in our town,” while providing a new social outlet for dogs and their owners.
“Just the social aspect of it is amazing — for dogs to interact with other dogs and people,” Russell said. “That will help the whole community if dogs are friendly and know how to interact with others”
A group of Paxton residents — including the Russells, Johnson, Bob and Joy Jones and Janessa Janssen — would build and maintain the dog park.
“The group knows there will be much commitment involved to get the park up and running, and that is not an issue for them,” Johnson said. “Dogs are our heart and soul. It is a win-win situation, and dogs are worth every minute of it.”
At the dog park, owners would be responsible for picking up after their dogs and making sure their dogs are current on all vaccinations. Also, unsavory behavior will not be tolerated at the dog park, as a list of rules will be posted.
Tentatively, the dog park would be open each day from dawn until dusk, with committee members monitoring the area in the mornings and evenings to ensure the grounds are kept clean.
A membership fee would be charged annually — or a $5 nonmember fee per visit — with all revenue going back into a fund that is used to help beautify the park.