A Third Spot for Dogs to Roam Lease-Free

Charlotte Observer, The (NC)
February 16, 2005


Life got better for the town’s dogs when Swaney Pointe K-9 Park opened in December.

Celia Bensman takes her two dogs – Molly, a 3-year-old Lab mix, and George, a 5-year-old Lab – to the new park every day. George loves to run and play fetch; Molly prefers to “visit” with her new canine friends

“Dogs are such social animals,” says Bensman, a Cornelius resident who, with others, lobbied the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department to create the new dog park. “It’s so much fun to watch the dogs interact. They also get tons of exercise.”

Swaney Pointe is at Ramsey Creek Park on Nantz Road. The dog park is a four-acre, fenced-in, off-leash area with two sections, one for large dogs and another for smaller breeds.

Dogs must meet park guidelines and have a pooch pass to use either of the off-leash areas. Annual pooch passes are $35.

The new park is the third off-leash dog park in Mecklenburg County. The first site opened in 2002 at McAlpine Park, with the second in 2003 at Reedy Creek Park.

Although it was about a 40-minute drive, Bensman often took her dogs to Reedy Creek and saw the advantage of having an off-leash park closer to home. She joined Carolina FIDO (Friends in Dog Ownership), whose mission is to encourage the creation of off-leash parks, and, with several friends, began hounding the county to put a park in the Cornelius area.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a citizens’ action group,” Bensman says, “but I felt very strongly about this.” Bensman, 56, was born on the west coast of Scotland. She met her husband, Jim, in London in 1970 and moved to the United States when she was 24. She became a U.S. citizen in 1994.

The Bensmans moved to Cornelius nine years ago. Celia serves on the board of directors of the Peninsula Homeowners Association and is a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Republican Women’s Club, while Jim is on the Cornelius Board of Commissioners. They have always had dogs and are active in the Lab rescue organization. Molly and George are rescued dogs.

Celia Bensman says she and a group of about six friends went to all the county workshops on parks for about two years. They talked about the need for an off-leash dog park in northern Mecklenburg County. When it looked like the county wasn’t going to respond, Bensman went to the town board this fall and asked members to get behind the effort. What she didn’t know was just how close the county was to building the park.

“Our number one request at workshops and in surveys was a dog park,” says Isaac Applewhite, director of the North Park District. “We were on the fast track to build one when the county formed an Off-Leash Advisory Council to look at the whole issue. That put us on hold for a few months, but in October we got the word to move forward.”

From that point on, things moved quickly and the new park was officially opened on Dec. 11, 2004.

Applewhite says the park cost about $38,000, raised mainly through the sale of “pooch passes” at the other two county dog parks. While there is no money left in that pot, Applewhite hopes to raise more money to build additional amenities for the Ramsey Creek park, including a doggie obstacle course with jumps and tunnels. He plans to sell sponsorships to companies, which can then put up display signs on the fences around the dog park. One sponsor is already lined up: Camp Wagging Tails, a dog care and boarding facility the Bensmans plan to open this spring in Cornelius.

Buoyed by the success of the effort to get a dog park at Ramsey Creek and her love of animals, Bensman has started her next project: a new animal shelter for Cornelius and Huntersville.

The towns share a facility that is inadequate for the need. Estimates for a new shelter, for which both towns set aside $50,000 this year, came in more than three times higher than what was budgeted.

Bensman is serving on a committee working with animal control officers from Cornelius and Huntersville to raise money for the shelter. The committee is planning a dinner and silent auction later this year to benefit the shelter.

“The towns may add to their contributions when they plan their 2006 budgets, but we’re still going to have to raise money through the private sector to make the shelter a reality,” Bensman says.


For information about getting a pooch pass or to learn more about dog park rules and regulations, visit the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department’s Web site at www.charmeck.org.

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