Union County

Wesley Chapel dog park comes from 3 girls’ vision, work

From left, Kimberly Como, Jackie Burnett and Courtney Karpinski.
From left, Kimberly Como, Jackie Burnett and Courtney Karpinski. JANE DUCKWALL

A year ago, a dog park in Wesley Chapel was little more than a dream for three Girl Scouts who wanted to provide dogs – and their owners – a place to have fun together.

In late January, Jackie Burnett, Kimberly Como and Courtney Karpinski got to see their dream become reality when the dog park at Wesley Chapel’s Dogwood Park opened.

On a recent sunny afternoon, they met at the dog park to talk about their experience. Dog owners and their pets cavorted nearby, providing a fitting backdrop.

The girls, members of Troop 3452, came up with the idea for the project as a way to fulfill the requirements for their Silver Award, the highest award available for girl Scouts in middle school. All three are eighth-grade students at Cuthbertson Middle School.

First, they had to do some research.

They learned that Union County had no dog parks, said Kimberly, 13, and that the nearest dog parks were about 30 minutes away, in Mecklenburg County. They visited those parks, studied their layouts and features, and talked about how they could use space and recycled materials at Dogwood Park, which was under construction at the time, to provide a place for dogs to play, socialize and run off energy.

In March 2014, they presented the idea to the Wesley Chapel town council, where Kimberly’s father, Mike Como, is mayor pro-tem and council liaison to the town’s Parks and Rec Committee.

After getting approval from the council and a $500 donation from the nonprofit Wesley Chapel Friends of Parks & Recreation, they were ready to proceed.

The $500 donation was used to pay for a Bobcat and operator to clear brush and trees from the site designated for the dog park. They also got donations from Carolina Pet Hospital in Wesley Chapel and from individuals for waste stations. The recycled fencing and posts came from a tennis court that had once been nearby.

Countless park volunteers, including Boy Scouts and members of the Optimist Club of Wesley Chapel and the Beta Club, also helped clear the site, install posts, put up fences and take out stumps. But the three girls devoted more than 300 hours of labor – often in stifling heat – to get the dog park completed.

Jackie, 13, said she considered some of the hardest work to be taking out the stumps and moving them to another area of the park. It also was tough, she said, to remove twisted vines and other plant debris from the recycled fences that would eventually surround the dog park and separate it into two areas for small and big dogs.

But not all of the work was physical labor.

They also worked to inform and educate Wesley Chapel residents about the benefits of dog parks, which includes promoting physical health and socialization for dogs and their owners. Courtney, 14, said they set up a booth at the town’s winter festival to hand out information about those benefits and their Silver Award project.

Though they’ve made a lot of progress and the park appears to be a success, it’s still not finished, they said. The town is working to get water to the park so that dog owners don’t need to bring their own supply. The three girls also hope to get a wading pool where dogs can cool off this summer.

It was clear, as they stood in the dog park and talked about their experiences and dreams for the dog park, that the girls are proud. And it was just as clear that their parents, standing in the background, were equally – if not more – proud of their daughters.

Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at jbduckwall@gmail.com.