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Is Cloquet going to the dogs?

A group of golden retrievers frolic happily at Jean Duluth Dog Park last month. Many pet owners coordinate play dates on dog park Facebook pages in advance. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
A little black dog runs excitedly towards a yellow Labrador to engage in a game of tag as the Lab plays fetch with his owner at Keene Creek Dog Park in Duluth. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

Cloquet resident Cory Martinson presented the Cloquet City Council in November with 330 signatures on a petition for support of building a dog park in the city.

Martinson presented his idea to the Council at its Nov. 21 meeting, and suggested the possibility of using the former Freeman Road garbage dump site for the proposed dog park. The dump was closed in the 1970s and is unsuitable for many uses because of its previous life.

Martinson, who is also a new member of the Cloquet Parks Commission, was met with some interest and questions by Council members, who suggested he proceed with his research but made no firm promises.

Caleb Peterson said the Parks Commission had supported placing a dog park in the capital plan as a placeholder about five years out, but his department hasn't done any further research on the idea.

Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge pointed out that the Council needs to make some tough decisions with its remaining sales tax dollars.

"We've had requests for a new skatepark, specialized pickleball courts and a dog park," Kolodge said. "We need to think about what we can do, what we can afford."

And what would happen if someone got bit by a dog at the park?

"The city's insurance would cover a dog park, the same way it covers other parks," City Administrator Aaron Reeves suggested.

Duluth has three dog parks, with a fourth on the way.

Two of the three Duluth dog parks are divided into fenced-in areas for dogs under 20 pounds and dogs over 20 pounds. They have clearly stated rules posted on signs outside of the park. No children under 8 years old are allowed inside the fenced area. No food or aggressive dogs are allowed. Owners must clean up after their pets.

The Duluth dog parks are a collaboration between dog park supporters, volunteers and the city of Duluth.

According to the Duluth Dog Parks website, the parks are driven by and planned by volunteers. They are paid for primarily through volunteer efforts and volunteers are instrumental in maintaining and improving current dog parks and getting new parks built. So far, the city of Duluth has contributed a total of $4,000 to one dog park, although city maintenance staff also installed a drainage system after issues caused by the 2012 flood at Keene Creek dog park.

The Pine Journal asked Facebook followers if they would support having a dog park in Cloquet. There were roughly 80 responses, which were fairly equally divided on their support. The biggest negative reason was cost of taxes rising yet again.

"The 0.5 percent sales tax covers a lot of the park improvements and developments," Martinson explained. "The nice thing about a dog park is that once we have a fence, signage, benches, garbage cans and gravel down for a parking lot, we're pretty much done spending sales tax money. We're thinking less than $100,000."

Martinson added that a dog park would cost substantially less than the other park projects, like the skateboard park and the new mountain bike trail.

A few residents responded on Facebook that dog owners should just find open land and let their dogs run there.

According to Martinson, Cloquet has a leash law, City Code Section 8.2.06, which states letting a dog run off leash inside city limits is a petty misdemeanor.

A resident on Facebook posted that dog owners should stop being lazy and walk their dogs on a leash for exercise.

"Oh, we do," responded Martinson, who has two energetic small dogs — a rat terrier and a Chihuahua — that he brings to Duluth dog parks to exercise off-leash and socialize with other small dogs. He challenged anyone to meet him on a summer day at a dog park and race his 12-pound dog across the park. If they win, he said he will apologize and concede that a walk on a leash is enough exercise for a dog.

"My dogs are little but they have a ton of energy," Martinson said. "It's so much better for them to expend it at the park than in my living room."

Many residents who support a dog park in Cloquet already visit parks in Duluth.

Cloquet's Kristin Hansen visits the Duluth dog parks once a week in the summer with her boxer/Labrador retriever mix and rat terrier.

"I love to take our dog for a walk, then as a reward, he gets to play with other dogs at the park," Hansen said. "I love how he gets so happy around other dogs."

Several residents voiced criticism that some dog owners don't clean up after their pets.

Martinson said he did not believe that would be a problem at the park. Most dog owners clean up after their pets, especially when there are others at the park watching.

While researching, Martinson discovered off leash dog parks are the fastest growing type of parks in the last few years.

"Dog parks are simple, cost-effective and can typically be established for a fraction of the cost of other recreational areas," Martinson said.

Socializing is an important aspect of pet ownership and something that happens naturally at a dog park. The dogs run off leash safely and play with other dogs to wear off excess energy at a park. Dogs who are not exercised on a regular basis can get into trouble at home out of boredom. Some dogs channel boredom by chewing on items like shoes or furniture, digging holes in the yard or other destructive behaviors.

A recent study of Duluth's dog parks found they are a well-used and valued city of Duluth Parks and Recreation amenity, according to Duluth Dog Park Facebook page administrator Denette Lynch. She said they are used every day, every month, in all sorts of weather, all throughout the year. Dog parks are enjoyed by people of all income levels, employment and student status, age and background, she said. They provide a place where people with a wide range of physical, emotional and mental health abilities and limitations spend time together. They are community gathering spaces where people enjoy the outdoors and the pleasure of watching the antics of the dogs.

"I'd like the park to be a minimum of three acres," Martinson said. "Jean Duluth is a good size at three and a half acres. Parking would be for at least 24 cars. No lights are planned, it's a daytime activity park, typical of what I've seen of dog parks."