When the ribbon was cut to open 3 Friends Dog Park in Soldotna last September, park organizer Connie Hocker realized a dream.
One year later, that dream is getting bigger.
The 3 Friends Dog Park, located on a 2-acre plot of land on North Aspen Drive just off the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, is celebrating its one-year anniversary with a special gathering Oct. 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. The celebration will be Halloween themed and there will be a costume contest.
Hocker said the gathering will also see the release of three balloons into the air commemorating the three people that the park owes its name to — Dean Birmley, Martha Brewer and Alice Puster.
“It has literally been a blessing for our community,” Hocker said. “It is providing a safe place for people and pets to exercise.”
It was Brewer’s real estate holdings that helped pave the way for the park to open after her death. Brewer’s grant of $55,000 went to fundraising efforts under the stipulation that all of the money be used to benefit canines and other animals.
Hocker said the one-year anniversary celebration will see the work done this year come to fruition with a slew of new exercise equipment that will make for a better experience for dogs to unleash their energy.
“I’ve been working on this since back in 2011 when it was designated as an off-leash park,” Hocker said. “It’s taken me a while to get to this point.”
The part opened Sept 30, 2017, essentially as a remodeled edition of the former Aspen Park. Hocker played a major role in developing the park and bringing together the necessary funds and volunteer efforts to stage the reconstruction of the wooded area.
Prior to 3 Friends Dog Park opening last year, the area sat inconspicuously behind a row of businesses that line the Kenai Spur Highway. Thanks to Hocker and other supporters, the area quickly brightened up with a colorful display sign and fencing.
“I drew that big beautiful entrance on a napkin,” Hocker said.
Hocker was able to gain the support of several local outlets, including Alan Sherlock of the Kenai Home Depot location, Kelly Keating Griebel of Century 21 Realty Solutions, Kelly Martin of the Kenai Peninsula Association of Realtors, Dale Bagley of the Soldotna Rotary Club and Andrew Carmichael of Soldotna Parks and Recreation. The realtors association and Soldotna Rotary both donated $2,500 each last year.
The newer additions of benches and exercise equipment will help with dogs with physical disabilities, Hocker said. The equipment also caters to dogs of different sizes. There is a separate section of the park that allows small dogs to run around.
Hocker said the new additions include a ring jump, a pole jump, an “A” ramp that leads dogs up to a crest and back down, and two sets of uneven steps.
She also said that two additional equipment pieces will be added soon, as Home Depot is donating materials to build a “kissing booth” section featuring a ramp that leads up to an opening where dogs can pose for pictures for their owners, as well as a set of weaving poles, which challenge dogs to move quickly between stationary poles set in the ground.
In the 12 months since opening, the park has gained the attention of dog lovers and dog-less people alike.
“I drive by there every day on the my way to work and the parking lot is packed and crowded with dogs,” said Kelly Martin, CEO of the Realtors association. “We had the park closed down for two days in May, and you could hear the dogs barking in their cars down the street wanting to go. I’ve never seen a disappointed dog until that.”
Carmichael said the years leading up to last year’s opening featured a lot of movement in getting the new park constructed, but the $55,000 bequest really got the ball rolling for good.
“From that point forth, we were off to the races trying to keep up with Connie,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael, the parks and rec director in the city of Soldotna, said that the project could not be possible without the volunteer help, adding that the folks who show up to use it daily keep it running.
“Aspen Park was popular but very underutilized,” he said. “The dogs keep things moving and it maximizes the park.”
Hocker said more is still coming with the addition of the Adopt-a-Bone program, a fundraiser to help keep maintenance up. Individuals who donate to the support the ongoing maintenance of the park can decorate small, medium and or large bones and hang them on the outside fencing of the park.
“We’ve had an amazing response from the community and businesses,” Hocker said. “It’s taken me eight years to get to this point with assistance from businesses.”
And she’s not done yet.
“Next summer I’m implementing a memorial section,” she said. “We’ll be creating three pillars covered with stones, along with bricks laid in groups. You can add your dogs ashes to the bricks you make, and donations go to the park.”