Not in every town does the mayor get down on her knees with her dog to help the effort to build a park for pets. As part of a national contest where Bluffton is a finalist, Mayor Lisa Sulka this month posed for photos at the future park site with her yellow Lab, Pooh, wrote a letter in support of the dog park and gave a video interview.
"Now we just need everyone to go online and vote for the park," she said Wednesday.
Bluffton is one of 15 finalists in the PetSafe Bark for Your Park Contest, where participants are competing for $100,000 to build a dog park. The location that gets the most online votes wins; voting closes July 31.
Bluffton qualified as a finalist because Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks has spent the past six years working with officials from the town of Bluffton and Beaufort County to secure a site, forming an official nonprofit organization, and developing a memorandum of understanding about how the park will be built and maintained, said William Grooms, president of Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks. The park will be on a one-and-a-half acre parcel near the soccer fields in Buckwalter Regional Park.
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As part of the contest, the Friends group gathered about 60 supporters and their dogs to make a video June 24 at the Calhoun Sreet Promenade in Old Town Bluffton.
Footage also includes Sulka and local veterinarian Dr. Kirk Dixon talking about the benefits of dog parks.
"Just like us, dogs need to get their heart rates up two or three times a week, and that just doesn't happen when they're being walked on a leash," he said.
Construction won't start on the park until the group has raised $30,000, Grooms said. Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks will be in charge of building and maintaining the park, paying the water bill, providing the bags for owners to clean up after their dogs, and buying insurance. The group will rent the space for $1 a year from Beaufort County.
Hilton Head Island's dog park on a fenced-in acre in Chaplin Community Park, which was built with donated construction work and a community fundraising drive, cost about $40,000.
Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks has a rendering of the park, drawn by architect Danny Fogle. It shows separate fenced areas for large and small dogs.
In addition to online votes and monetary donations, Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks needs a volunteer grant writer and a landscape architect willing to donate his or her time to tweak this plan, said Charlotte Wamser, one of the group's founders.