At the tender age of one, Annie Grieco seems to have it all – a good home, neighborhood friends, and the loving support of her family.
She even has her own Facebook page.
Everything seems to be in place, save for one key element – somewhere safe to play, without fear of passing cars.
Fortunately, Annie’s owner has a short leash – and a grand vision.
A resident’s pitch for a park
Annie, a playful ridge-back Labrador mix, belongs to Kelly Grieco, a resident of Stanton Street in East Falls.
Grieco – Kelly, that is – announced at the February East Falls Community Council meeting that she’s hoping to organize an East Falls-based dog park, and actively seeks the support of the community – and especially dog owners – to help bring her plan to fruition.
Grieco, by day an account development representative, is a relatively recent transplant to East Falls, settling in last summer.
In the intervening months, she and Annie have frequented Manayunk’s Pretzel Park, but the desire for a park closer to home motivated her to action.
“Everything is so walkable in East Falls,” observed Grieco, begging the question – “Why not have a dog park here?”
She noted that East Falls is very dog-friendly, and a dog park would be a boon for pets and owners alike.
So far, she has fielded numerous favorable responses from community members, and her proposal has instigated a healthy discussion on Philadelphia Speaks.
“It’s getting more traction than I thought,” she said.
To build on this groundswell of enthusiasm, she indicated a need to conduct research into similar community dog parks, organize a development team, investigate funding, and find a suitable site.
Scouting a location
The major hurdle for Grieco will be finding the proper location for an East Falls dog park.
A strong contender is McMichael Park, located at the intersection of Henry and Midvale Avenues.
After broaching this as a possible destination, Grieco fielded some fears that dogs might overrun the park.
She emphasized that only a small section would be necessary for her proposal.
A second possible option is on land adjacent to the Queen Lane Reservoir, which is managed by the Philadelphia Water Department.
According to Tonya Mason, an East Falls-based artist and owner of two Labradors, the Queen Lane site is a favorite among local dog owners.
“It’s a de facto dog park,” she said, as the tract provides ample room for dogs to be let “off-leash.”
In addition, Mason noted, trash cans are provided – presumably by PWD – for the disposal of dog waste.
Oversight – and more importantly, liability – are two factors to contend with on Queen Lane, according to several sources familiar with the area.
A third viable location would be at the Inn Yard Park, which stands between Ridge Ave. and Kelly Drive.
While Grieco has been in contact with Inn Yard overseers, Gina Snyder, Executive Director of East Falls Development Corporation, pledged support of any dog-park proposal that occurs in EFDC’s Business District, located along the Ridge Avenue corridor.
“If it is in the business district,” she said, “it could bring in a lot of people.”
But, beyond enhancing patronage of East Falls-based establishments, Snyder suggested any such initiative would have a positive impact on the neighborhood at large.
“Anything that brings dogs together builds community,” she said.
Lastly, McDevitt Recreation Center on Scotts Lane has been floated on community forums as another worthwhile destination.
Tom Sauerman, President of the East Falls Community Council, explained that this isn’t the first time a dog park proposal has surfaced in East Falls.
Several years ago, a community member expressed interest in a park, and volunteers were assembled, but the project never got off the ground.
Although not a dog-owner himself, Sauerman saw the advantages of such a park, and hoped someone would step forward with the idea again, which happened two weeks ago when Grieco approached him with the idea, just in time for February’s EFCC meeting.
At the meeting, Grieco received official backing from EFCC, and solicited supporters for the park.
Sauerman said the EFCC formed an “initiative” to assist with the proposal, and added that the EFCC will aid in promoting a park through The Fallser and with community interest groups.
“If they come up with something reasonable,” he said, “we’ll stand behind it and assist in any way we can.”
A Manayunk model
Serving as a potential model for Grieco’s vision is the Manayunk dog park, located along Cotton St. on the northern edge of Pretzel Park along Cotton St.
Kevin Smith, President of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, explained that the Manayunk dog park originated in 2002 or 2003, out of the concerns related to unleashed dogs in Pretzel Park.
Working in conjunction with MNC, community members planned a fenced-in playground area for children at first, but altered this design after additional dialogue.
“The discussion went, ‘Why are we fencing-in kids when we should be fencing in dogs?'” Smith related.
With this design concept in place, funding became the next priority.
Smith credits Mayor Michael Nutter – then 4th District Councilman – with finding money for the park’s renovations.
Additional financial assistance in the form of state grants was provided by State Representative Kathy Manderino – since-retired from the 194th legislative district.
Lastly, park assets were leveraged with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to provide tree-trimming services and terracing.
After its groundbreaking, there were concerns voiced in regard to the potential for undesirable interactions between dogs and children – to say nothing of dog waste – but Smith noted none of these fears were manifested, a likely result of what he termed the “self-policing” efforts of dog-owners.
“From my point of view, it has been absolutely trouble free,” he observed.
It adds up to an environment attractive to residents and visitors alike.
“It’s a clear amenity to the neighborhood,” said Smith, “as it draws a lot of people – and a lot of happy dogs.”
‘I’ll find a way’
With examples of success from nearby neighborhoods – and the ongoing support of community – Grieco’s plan has the potential for success.
Despite the challenges of finding a proper location and securing the necessary funding, she remains dedicated to finding a haven for dogs from East Falls and beyond.
“The pressure is on,” Grieco remarked, “but it’s alright – I’ll find a way.”
For more information, look for an East Falls Dog Park Facebook page, coming soon.