Konnie Prince drove to Riverside Park on Saturday afternoon on a mission to sign a petition for a dog park.
Across the street from a booth set up by Mary Becker and her mom, Debbie Baker, Prince waved as she walked toward them with her French mastiff named Tuesday.
“Tuesday is my BFF, and we do everything together that the law allows, so the more things that are available for us to do together, the happier we both are,” Prince said. “There are so many communities in Texas that are super dog-friendly. I think Victoria could step up, don’t you?”
The 68-year-old Victoria resident was among more than 180 people who signed Becker’s petition Saturday for a dog park in Victoria. By Sunday, Becker had 282 signatures.
Prince heard about the petition from her dog’s groomer, but many signatures came from drivers passing by.
Becker decided to start the petition after creating a Facebook group in late June called “Puppers Playdates” geared toward fostering meetups for furry friends and their owners. As the group grew, Becker saw an opportunity to use the platform to advocate for a dog park.
“Me and my mom were always like, ‘We need a dog park,’ so we decided to get together and get dogs together so our dogs will have someone to play with,” she said.
Should the city of Victoria build a dog park?
Becker’s mom, who used to show dogs, was happy to help her daughter when she saw how passionate she was about the project.
“We go to Austin and like, we took the dogs all the way to Barton Springs,” she said. “I had never let my dog loose, and she just had a blast running up and down the springs, playing with the other dogs. We shouldn’t have to go all the way there for that.”
The dog park discussion has been running in circles in Victoria for quite a few years but has yet to catch its tail.
The idea for a dog park gained steam in 2012, when Victoria’s Parks and Recreation Commission was working on its 2025 Master Plan. A survey filled out by residents showed a dog park was the third most desired item behind a water park and an amphitheater, Advocate archives show.
The commission met in 2014 to discuss preliminary plans for a dog park they had hoped to place on the grounds of the Victoria Horseman’s Club arena in Riverside Park, which was cleared after the arena was turned back over to the city.
“When they started clearing that land in Riverside Park, everyone was excited to have a place to take their dogs to the park and socialize,” Becker said.
In 2015, those conversations progressed as the commission started seeking funding to provide the required financial groundwork.
“It was a project that the parks commission was going to set out to raise funds for, and they only raised enough money to get conceptual designs drawn,” said O.C. Garza, Victoria city spokesman. “I think when they got those estimates back and saw how much it was going to cost, it just never came to fruition.”
The commissioned design had an estimated cost of about $230,000 in 2015 but would likely cost about $300,000-$350,000 now because of increases in material costs, said Danielle Williams, the Victoria Parks and Recreation Department’s assistant director.
“The area was going to be right around 3 acres,” she said. “Now, that is not to say that it couldn’t be put anywhere else, (but) at the time, that spot (the former Horseman’s Club arena) seemed like a pretty good location.”
The initial blueprints were for a park that included fenced-in areas for both small and large dogs, water fountains for dogs and people, a small pavilion, paving, new grass, dog waste disposal stations and lighting, Williams said.
“It wasn’t just a fenced area with a couple of benches,” she said. “The proposal was for a pretty nice park.”
But after the blueprints were drawn, a lack of interest and funding stalled the project, Williams said.
“We always try to say, ‘You know, this is how much it is going to cost, and y’all can be the boots on the ground and help us raise these funds,’ but there hasn’t been much interest in it from the commission,” she said. “It is definitely something that we see value in and hope to build one day.”
Gail Repka, a parks and recreation commissioner and vice president of the Victoria Parks Coalition, Inc., has been looking for people to serve as board members and members of the coalition to get projects like the dog park moving forward. The project has been handed off to the coalition, which is a nonprofit that was started a few years ago to promote, build and oversee new public or government support for parks and recreation projects in Victoria, she said.
Repka stopped by Becker’s petition booth Saturday to share her enthusiasm, as she said finding support for the project has been difficult.
“We are definitely looking for more members of the community to join the nonprofit coalition,” she said. “And we look forward to helping in any way we can to get that project going.”
“We have a PayPal account there to raise funds for the dog park or any other projects,” she added.
Even if the dog park was independently funded, the Parks and Recreation Department would still be tasked with maintenance.
“We would have to come up with a number in order to have staff hours to maintain it,” Williams said.
Regardless, Williams said she encourages community members who want to get involved to show up at City Council and park commission meetings to voice their opinions.
Becker plans to do so, with signatures in hand.