Bluffton dog park proposal a paw -- er, step -- closer to reality

Babbie Guscio has been working to bring a dog park to Bluffton for so long she no longer has a dog.

But years after Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks began petitioning the town for land, Guscio and other members of the nonprofit group say they are closer than ever to securing a space for their four-legged friends in Buckwalter Place.

A memorandum of understanding that outlines the roles the town, Beaufort County and the nonprofit group will play is being created, according to town engineering director Bob Fletcher.

While the town owns the land, the dog park also needs county approval because the county is involved in the development of Buckwalter Place and operates the skate park, athletic facility and soccer fields already there.

Although there is no firm schedule on when the park will open, the guiding principle is that the Friends will raise funds, build and maintain the hangout for pooches, Fletcher said.

The town's Development Review Committee also recently switched the location of the park within the development.

It was originally slated to be near The Farm neighborhood and close to wetlands.

The new site is in the soccer park near the entrance to Hampton Hall. The move came after some in The Farm neighborhood objected to the location and because of environmental concerns, town officials have said.

Friends member Jennifer Megliore called the recent progress a pivotal moment in making the dog park a reality.

The new location will also allow the group to "piggy back" on existing soccer park resources such as water lines, she said.

"It will make a bigger bang for our buck," she said.

Volunteer architect Danny Fogle has drawn a rendering of the proposed park, with separate areas for large and small dogs among other features.

The group has $7,000 in donations raised from benefits such as an annual Bark in the Park event. They are also selling pavers to install at the entrance of the park that can be engraved with up to three lines of text for $60. The pavers are available at The Store on Calhoun Street.

The group can't seek corporate contributions or grants without a final decision from the town, Guscio said.

Megliore said the group estimates it will need $40,000 -- about what it cost to build Hilton Head Island's dog park on a fenced-in acre in Chaplin Community Park near Singleton Beach. The Hilton Head facility was built with donated construction work and a community fundraising drive.

Friends member James Haberberger visits the Hilton Head park once a week to let his pet run and play with other animals without a leash.

A Bluffton dog park would be an asset to the town, he said. He's been involved with the effort since it began in earnest in 2005. That's when the group first presented a petition with 1,000 signatures to town council.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed," he said of the latest development.