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 in which Bluffton is a finalist, Mayor Lisa Sulka this month posed for photos at the future park site with her yellow Lab, Pooh. She also 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 last week.
Bluffton is one of 15 finalists in the PetSafe Bark for Your Park Contest, in which 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, form an official nonprofit organization, and develop 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.
Dog parks are becoming popular in the Lowcountry and throughout the country. They range in size and design, but all share the same purpose: To provide a place where dogs can run freely off-leash and socialize. And dogs aren't the only ones who enjoy dog parks -- people do, too.
William Grooms, president of Friends of Bluffton Dog Park, said he got to know his wife, Amanda Mitchell-Grooms, at Hilton Head's dog park.
"I first met her at a friend's house, but we saw each other every Saturday morning at the park with our dogs, and that's where we started talking," he said.
Although it's probably an exaggeration to say dog parks are the new singles bars, they provide many benefits. People can exercise their dogs without much effort, socialize with other dog lovers, bond and play with their dogs and practice their off-leash training.
In addition to Hilton Head's dog park, other island dog parks include private, fenced parks in Long Cove and in Hilton Head Harbor RV Park. In Bluffton, private dog parks can be found in Hampton Lake, Belfair and the Lakes at Myrtle Park apartment community.