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Council, Residents Celebrate Town's First Dog Park

Long awaited dog park in Herndon, the fifth in the county, opens its gates for first time.

The featured guests at the grand opening of Herndon's newest park showed little interest in listening to the mayor's comments at the new facility's opening celebration Saturday morning. Nothing against the mayor, but these guests were enjoying getting to know each other and checking out their spacious new digs. But once the speeches were over, the ceremonial leash was cut and the requisite "Who Let the Dogs Out" blared from a nearby boom box, the furry four-legged guests of honor helped usher in a new era in Herndon as Chandon Park officially went to the dogs.

Representatives from the Herndon Town Council, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County Park Authority, Herndon Dogs Inc., and dozens of area dog owners and their pets were on hand (and paws) for the honorary leash-cutting at Herndon's first sanctioned off-leash dog park.

"I'm crying tears, I am so happy. It's been three-and-a-half, long — very long — years in the making and it is absolutely wonderful to see it happen," said Pat Voltmer, the Herndon Dogs vice president, as she watched her dog, Bailey, playing with other local pooches. "I guess all of that long effort and all the hard work was worth it, because here we are."

The facility, which is nearly 30,000 square feet, is located in the 7.9-acre community park behind the Chandon Park Apartments. The park can hold up to 50 dogs at a time, and about 30 canines brought their owners out to the county's newest dog park.

While the dogs did not show much interest in the mayor, supporters of the long-proposed park did. The dog park would not have been possible if it were not for Mayor Richard Thoesen, Herndon Dogs president Nancy Despeaux told the crowd.

"If there is only one person to thank for this park, it is Rick Thoesen," she said.

Thoesen, who was elected Herndon mayor in May, resigned from his position on the Fairfax County Park Authority in December. While juggling both jobs, Thoesen made it clear the Chandon Dog Park was one of his priorities.

"I remember telling Rick that he couldn't leave the Park Authority Board until he got a laundry list of things done," Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) said. "People should know that it was Rick Thoesen who put this dog park on that list."

FUNDING FOR THE PARK was raised by Herndon Dogs and was provided by the Herndon Town Council and the Fairfax County Park Authority. The sponsoring group was responsible for raising half of the facility's $14,149.10 price tag. The Herndon Town Council paid the $36,000 necessary for parking lot improvements. Mendelsohn said he thought it was a wise investment for the town and the county. "Despite the cold weather," said the Dranesville supervisor, "I can look around and tell how well used this facility is going to be."

Michael Canales of Herndon was one of nearly 50 dog owners who braved the frigid weather. The owner of Louie, a 15-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, and the father of two teenagers, Joseph, 15, and Katherine, 13, Canales brought all three of his "children" to Saturday's opening.

"We usually have go to the Reston or Oakton parks, so it is great to have one close by. Yes, I definitely think Louie will be a regular here," Canales said. "I like the shade and the different elevations. I am pleasantly surprised, it is better than I thought it would be."

Looking around it was harder to tell who was happier, the leash-free, tail-wagging dogs or their owners. Beth Prester, one of the founding members of Herndon Dogs, could not stop smiling. Like Canales, she too, used to drive elsewhere in the county to exercise her dog. "No longer will dog owners have to load their pet into the car for a trip to dog parks in Reston, Oakton and Alexandria," Prester said.

HERNDON DOGS, an all-volunteer advocacy group consisting of Herndon-area dog owners, like Voltmer, brought the idea of a dog park to the Town of Herndon in June 2000. It is the fifth such park in the county, and the first in the Dranesville district. After the council staff recommended Chandon Park as the best location, a public hearing was held last February and the Fairfax County Park Authority held a mandatory public hearing this past April 11. The authority approved revisions to the Chandon Park Master Plan last June 26.

The Jan. 4 grand opening and leash-cutting ceremonies for the Chandon Off-Leash Dog Area came less than one month after construction on the park began Dec. 17. It came nearly two years to the day, Jan. 9, 2001, that the Herndon Town Council unanimously voted to support the recommendation from the county Park Authority to build a dog area on available land in Chandon Park.

The long road to a dog park was hindered by half-truths and lack of understanding about what a dog park is really like, Voltmer said. "Most people have no ideas what goes on at a dog park. They assume it is all barking or fighting," she said. "They should come out here and see for themselves. The socialization aspects, alone, are so important. Just look around. They aren't barking or fighting. They are running, playing, and sniffing; it is great exercise. People without dogs who have never been to a park just don't know."

AT SATURDAY'S OPENING, Winnie Shapiro, the Braddock District representative for the Fairfax County Park Authority Board, applauded the diverse group of supporters that helped make the dog park a reality. The park is a cooperative effort between county government, the local municipality and an all-volunteer dog advocacy group. Chandon Park is owned by the Town of Herndon, but its facilities are developed and maintained by the Park Authority. "The message here today," said Shapiro, "is about teamwork and the power of partnerships."

One of those partners is the Courts of Chandon community that, in the end, embraced the idea of a dog park in their backyard. "This can only be good for the town and only good for the Courts of Chandon. We were heartened by the support we received from the neighbors," said Prester. "Let's be honest, the place had gotten pretty seedy."

After the ceremony, Councilman John DeNoyer, who brought his black lab Kway to the new dog park, echoed Prester's comments, when he addressed the importance of Saturday's event. "Yes, it's great for their socialization and their exercise, but this area in Chandon had really become a problem area, so it is great for the town, as well," the councilman said. "I can't tell you how excited I am to see it go to the dogs, literally."