Group secures 1.5 acres for proposed Bluffton dog park

Six years after Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks began asking for a gathering space for pooches and their owners, the group finally has a spot to call its own.

The nonprofit organization's new board president, William Grooms, signed an agreement with the town and Beaufort County on Tuesday to use 1.5 acres in Buckwalter Regional Park for Bluffton's first dog park.

The town owns the land but the plan needed county approval because it operates the skate park, athletic facility and soccer fields there.

Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks will rent the space for $1 a year and be responsible for the costs of construction and maintenance. For example, it will have to pay for water lines for fountains and hoses to hydrate thirsty dogs and wash down the park. It must also post a $10,000 surety bond and acquire $1 million worth of liability insurance, according to the agreement.

Now comes the next challenge -- finding the money, Grooms said.

The nonprofit group has about $12,000 in the bank from benefits, such as the annual Bark in the Park, and plans fundraisers to raise acquire the rest.

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, which was built with donated construction work and a community fundraising drive.

Many of the group's members travel to the island to let their four-legged friends play and socialize with other dogs. Katie Epps, owner of golden retriever mix Gracie and black Labrador Sarah, said a park in Bluffton would help local dog owners make new friends, too.

"It would bring the community together," Epps said.

With the signed agreement, the group can now seek corporate donations, according to member Charlotte Wamser.

The group also has entered a national "Bark for Your Park" contest hosted by PetSafe, a company that makes pet-containment products, to win $100,000 to be used for a dog park. Bluffton's chances depend on how many people log on to the website to show support.

Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks already has a rendering of the park, drawn by volunteer architect Danny Fogle. Its features will include separate fenced areas for large and small dogs.