•  Southern Jackson County residents walk their dogs at the Village Green just before a pet-blessing ceremony there in October 2018. Although the Cashiers park is popular with dog walkers, it lacks an official dog park area -- there currently isn’t one anywhere in southern Jackson County. (Photo by Don Richeson.)
    Southern Jackson County residents walk their dogs at the Village Green just before a pet-blessing ceremony there in October 2018. Although the Cashiers park is popular with dog walkers, it lacks an official dog park area -- there currently isn’t one anywhere in southern Jackson County. (Photo by Don Richeson.)

County may move flood-prone dog park

By Quintin Ellison / WNC News Share

JACKSON COUNTY -- Those wanting to exercise Fido at Jackson County’s sole official remaining dog park are often out of luck.

Following heavy rainfall last week, several inches of standing water filled much of the designated dog space, an 8,670 square-foot fenced area at Mark Watson Park, which is in Sylva. (Although southern Jackson County has its share of popular dog walking destinations, including the Village Green in Cashiers, there are currently no official dog parks in southern Jackson County.)

 

Flooding plagues current park

Flooding is common at county-owned Mark Watson Park. So much so, some dog owners on occasion drive their dogs to Waynesville or Franklin to take advantage of better-engineered, considerably larger dog parks.

Ten-acre Mark Watson Park has a history of drainage problems – a portion of the property contains protected wetlands.

 “Mark Watson is constantly flooded, and it’s more of a hassle to bring the dogs there and make sure they get clean before leaving,” said regular park user Payton Ore, who has two dogs, Tucker and Loki.

 

Jackson resident seek better site

Ore and other dog-park frequenters hope for better.

Tentatively, Jackson County commissioners want to transform the former landfill in Dillsboro into a complex that would include a dog park. The nine-acre landfill closed in 1996 after accumulating 750,000 tons of waste. A Dillsboro dog park would be about the same distance from the Cashiers crossroads as the Sylva one -- about 27 miles.

In 2006, the county opened Green Energy Park at the landfill to reclaim trash-generated methane for a crafters’ area. Commissioners are weighing whether to add the dog park, walking trails and a replacement animal shelter. Additionally, county leaders discussed lab space for students in partnership with Western Carolina University.

“I think the biggest issue with the current dog park is the size compared to how many people use it, as well as there not being a separate space for small versus large dogs,” said Tori Lee, who has two dogs, Winston and Lucy.

“There’s been many times I’ve driven by and wanted to take my dogs, but turned around due to there being 10-plus dogs in the fence, or there being a lot of small dogs or puppies. My dogs are very large and I don’t want to take risks of a smaller dog accidentally getting hurt because there’s not enough room to run.”

 

Dog parks enhance community

A park is about more than exercise and play, according to local dog owners. They say it helps build the community.

Almost 100 dog-owning residents belong to a Facebook group, Mark Watson Dog Park. Through the social media site, these dog owners arrange times to meet at the park and, following rain, tell each other whether it’s usable that day.

“We are in dire need of a new dog park,” said Crystal Pratt, a group member. Her dog is named Kobe.

“We have a large dog community in this area, and the current park is not nearly large enough to accommodate us,” Pratt said. “The only improvements that have been made to the current park have been made by us, the dog community. I spoke with some of our county leaders last summer in regards to a new park. I am glad to see we are actually starting to move in right direction.”

The current park is at 86 Mark Watson Park, which, coming from southern Jackson County, is off N.C. Highway 107 North in downtown Sylva. (For information, visit https://www.rec.jacksonnc.org/mark-watson-park.)

 

Southern Jackson County

Southern Jackson County currently lacks an official dog park -- though it had at least one such park in the past. “Up until about three years ago, there was a privately owned and operated small dog park (a little more than one acre in size) in between the Sapphire Valley Resort and the Country Club of Sapphire Valley,” David Stroud, executive director of the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society, told the Chronicle. “Patrons of the park could purchase an annual membership (I believe the fee was around $50) and would have access to the combination lock at the gate.”

Stroud said the land where the dog park was situated was sold about three years ago to the Country Club of Sapphire Valley, which now uses the site for employee housing units.

He emphasized dog parks serve a useful, community-enhancing purpose, especially when the owners of the dogs using them monitor their dogs properly. “Dog parks can be a tremendous benefit for local animal-loving residents and visitors who do not have a large open space to safely allow their pet to romp and run off-leash,” Stroud said. “If the humans on the other end of the leash practice good dog park etiquette along with a healthy dose of common sense, a dog park can be a fun, safe and rewarding environment for exercise and socialization.”

(Crossroads Chronicle Editor Don Richeson contributed to this story.)

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