Building a Dog Park: The Buck Fund Dog Park in Emporia, Kansas

In my research about dog parks I found out that Emporia Kansas has a dog park; it is called the Buck Fund Dog Park.  I contacted the people involved in the development of the park for information because I thought it would be a great case study in the process of building a dog park because Emporia is relatively similar in size to Hays (Emporia is approximately 26,000 in size and Hays is approximately 20,000 in size).  One of the co-founders of the park, MiChielle Cooper, who is also the Director of the Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc., answered some of my questions and provided some additional information.  Here is our discussion: 


Kim:  What is your involvement with the Buck Fund Dog Park?

 MiChielle:  I am one of the FOUR co-founders.  MiChielle Cooper, Executive Director of Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc.  Also, Renee’ Flott – Business Owner/The Pet Sitting Pal (and Buck Fund Board Officer), Sara Kelley – Business Owner/Tallgrass Art & Frame Shop (and Buck Fund Board Officer), and Debbie Doudican – Business Owner/Bobby D’s Merchant St. BBQ (and Buck Fund board member).

Kim:  What is the relationship to the Buck Animal Welfare Fund?

MiChielle:  The dog park’s only relationship to the dog park is that the four girls mentioned above formed a group called the R-DOG (Responsible Dog Owner’s Group of Emporia) to work with the City of Emporia in creating interest and getting the project approved and constructed with the City.  The Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc. did, however, contribute $5,000 to the project which is the momentum that got the project “teeth” and convinced the City to take a look at our project.

Kim:  How did you get the park started?

MiChielle:  Our dog park was started with a small committed group of girls including myself, the local pet sitting company, and two local business owners.  We began meeting once a week and reviewing research from around the country on how to market and implement a dog park.  Once we got all of our “best case/benchmarked” ideas down on paper we requested a meeting with city officials to start talking about the possibility and locations.  We discussed a “city owned dog park” versus a “privately owned dog park” and came to the conclusion that we would get a dog park up and running quicker if we had the City of Emporia’s blessing and a portion of their already designated park grounds.  The city manager asked for a formal proposal regarding the dog park for the city.  We put together our initial ideas in the proposal and went through about a year of meetings with the city commissioners.  We convinced the city to donate the 2 acres of area in an already existing “under utilized” city park area, and from there did the rest of the fundraising it took to get the basic amenities that you see at the park today (total of about $17,000.00) 

Kim:  How did you convince the city to set aside park land for the dog park?

MiChielle:  We scoured the city for several locations.  Specifically looking at already designated city park areas that we felt (and other citizens felt) were under-utilized park green spaces.  (We knew we did not have the funding for a privately purchased and operated dog park.)  From there we built a case for increasing traffic to the park by allocating the space for dog-specific recreation.  See attached original proposal. (keep in mind this was a rough draft of the original idea — it was tweaked to what we ended up with in reality today)

Kim:  How did you come up with the estimates for the cost of the park?  How did you raise the money for the park?  

MiChielle:  After completing extensive research about other dog parks across the country we looked at all of the common denominators of the most successful high traffic dog parks.  From there we knew the number one necessity was fencing, a water source, and park rules.  From there we started contacting vendors for each and collected 2-3 estimates for fencing, water source, Mutt Mitts (for poo clean up), and signage.  RAISING MONEY:  We all worked from our personal rolodex’s to start.  Also contacted the local newspaper to report that we had raised $7,000 for the project so far and let the public know how much additional funding we needed to get basic park amenities to open the park.  We published a phone number for interested parties to contact us for information or donating to the cause.  We also sold Dog Park T-shirts for a profit of $7 per shirt to raise money.  We also applied for “mini grants” to available funders in our area appealing to their sense of community and park improvements(Emporia Community Foundation, Hills Pet Nutrition Inc, Menu Foods Midwest Corp, Wal-Mart, etc…  )    

Kim:  How is the park maintained?  By the city?  By volunteers?  By a Friends of the park organization?  

MiChielle:  The reason our group chose city park land was simple.  The city labor force ALREADY maintained the park as part of the existing city budget.  So that would not be an additional cost for us.  City Parks/Recreation Dept workers take care of all the mowing/weed eating etc..  at the park.  We have volunteers from R-DOG that periodically “de poop da park” if you know what I mean.  When we go out with our personal dogs, we take industrial pet poop scoop rakes and bags to clean up.  We also have “Mutt Mitt” dispensers on each side of the park for people to take a Poo Bag with signs to encourage cleaning up after your own pets.

Kim:  Does the park get used?

MiChielle:  It has been a wonderful addition to the recreational park offerings here in Emporia and is one of the busiest parks in town (especially during good weather!)  The Buck Fund Dog Park being created in the Dryer Park City Park Area increased traffic in the park from practically ZERO usage to there being almost no room for people to park during the busy times of the year (good weather, right after work, or right before work, and on weekends).  Although the park is being used a good deal even in the snowy weather by some dog owners.

Kim:  Are there rules for use of the park?

MiChielle:  YES!!  (Please click the following to open up the list of rules:  park-rules.doc OR you can access them through the PowerPoint at the end of the article. You can also find the rules and other important information on their brochure:  brochure-dog-park.doc)

Kim:  What are the essential elements that the Buck Fund Dog Park incorporated that you believe ALL dog parks should have?

MiChielle:  At least 1-2 acres of land, fenced with a small dog (under 35 #) and a large dog (over 35#) side.  This helps protect smaller dogs who think they are big dogs from invited a big dog bite 🙂  Another essential element is a DOUBLE – GATED Park entrance.  This is a safety feature to lessen the chance of dogs escaping the park while someone is entering the park.  RULES are essential to educate owners about safety in using the park.  WATER SOURCE – Alot of people come with their own dog bowls and water, but during the busy spring/summer/fall months it is great to have our doggie bowl fountain at the entrance so that people can fill water bowls on-site and enter the park and refill as often as they need to.   PET INFORMATION KIOSK – to post educational materials and fundraising information. One or two picnic tables on each side of the park is a nice amenity as well.

Kim:  Anything that you would like to add?  Any tips on getting a park started?  

MiChielle:  We started with temporary agility equipment, but since it was temporary it only lasted the first year the park was operating.  We are trying to raise some funds now to build more permanent addition agility equipment.  We would also like to add lighting eventually so people can use the park at night as well.  Also looking at developing perimeter asphalt walking trails to promote fitness by walking with your dog at the dog park.  TIPS:  Try to get confirmed pledges of support to at least 1/2 of the funding you will need for the basic amenities before approaching your city commission with a proposal.  Do not accept monetary donations until the method of deposit is determined.  We decided to deposit through our City entity so that the donations could be tax deductible as they support local park systems.  We could have accepted the donations through the 501c3 non profit, but due to our special circumstances and relationship with the city we decided to deposit with the city treasurer.  That was a bonus in collecting donations for them to be tax deductible.  People are a little more willing to donate when they can use it as a deduction on their taxes….  FIND a volunteer grant writer who can prepare a well-thought out and researched piece to prepare mini-grants and a proposal to your city or private funders.  FIND a friendly reporter on your newspaper staff who is dog-friendly and interested in the project enough to follow it with your through development and completion to keep the public informed and interested.

Thank you MiChielle for that great information.  I appreciate your willingness to share information and help Hays get a dog park.  MiChielle has provided additional information–video of the dog park, a list of rules, etc.–to view this information, which I have incorporated into a PowerPoint, click here: The Buck Fund Dog Park PowerPoint


2 Responses

  1. We are interested in a dog park in Arkansas City. The city has ok’d the park, now we need funding. Any grant information would be most helpful. Thanks, Linda

    • Linda,
      Unfortunately, we have not been successful with grant applications. We submitted 5 to local foundations (those are your best bet) and none were awarded….we raised all the money through donations and fundraisers.
      Good luck!

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