They bounded, they mingled, they frolicked — reveling in the sheer delight of running free in a special area created just for them. They're the approximately 70 dogs who, with their masters, came to Saturday's opening day of the Centreville Dog Park.
THE ATMOSPHERE was warm and friendly, despite the wind-whipped, just-above-freezing weather. And CentrevilleDogs president, Kate Sims, told the crowd before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, "Dogs are not our whole life, but they help make our lives whole."
The new park is on three acres at 15150 Old Lee Road, off a gravel road leading from Old Lee, near its intersection with Braddock Road. And this off-leash playground for pooches was made possible by CentrevilleDogs and the Fairfax County Park Authority.
CentrevilleDogs, a nonprofit group of 350 area residents and businesses, sponsored and will maintain the park. The Park Authority owns the property and built the facility as in interim use within Quinn Farm Park.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) brought his German Shepherd Marley, a rescue dog named after legendary singer Bob Marley, to the park. His previous dog, a German Shepherd named Mosby, died. A few weeks later, in August 2003, Frey met Sims.
"I needed to spend some time with a dog, so I borrowed my neighbor's husky," he said. "We were down in the Cub Run Stream Valley, and Kate was there walking her dog, Boulder, and she asked me if I knew of an off-leash area. Then I told her who I was and that I'd been looking for people who were interested [in the same thing]."
"She took the whole idea and ran with it," said Frey. A couple months later, CentrevilleDogs formed, and we began looking for a location and settled on this one. I really thank CentrevilleDogs. They've done a tremendous job getting this park and getting things organized."
First, though, the group had to raise funds to build the vinyl-clad, 5 1/2-foot, chainlink fence enclosing the 65,000-square-foot facility. Once it amassed $10,000 in money, grants or services, the Park Authority matched it through its Mastenbrook Grant program.
Now a reality, this area's first-ever dog park is free, open from dawn to dusk and divided into 2 1/2 acres for larger dogs and 1/2-acre for smaller dogs. And dogs need not reside in Centreville. All licensed dogs are welcome, since that also means their shots are up-to-date.
So how did Marley like it? "Marley loves it," said Frey. "He's a social dog. This is very convenient and it's so good for the dogs. He's had a ball."
SPEAKING AT Saturday's opening ceremony, Park Authority Chairman Hal Strickland said CentrevilleDogs "deserves a round of applause," as does the community which "came forward with its support, and we appreciate it."
Also praising Frey, Strickland told the crowd, "He called me and said, 'How can we make this happen?' And he helped [this matter] get through the Board of Supervisors with some dispatch and helped us find the location. This is the kind of partnership the Park Authority loves. Now, let's open [the park] up and let the dogs roam."
Sims, too, called Frey "a friend to the community," acknowledging as well the efforts of Strickland; Park Authority employee Tim White; Park Authority project manager Ed Richardson, who managed the team that built the park; and Park Authority Board member Georgette Kohler, who lives in Sully Estates, the community closest to the dog park.
Then, addressing the CentrevilleDogs members, Sims said, "You really did make this happen." To raise their $10,000, she said, "We washed dogs, sold T-shirts and washed more dogs — and you stayed determined and focused. Now, laugh and play with your silly dogs; go enjoy your dog park."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly said he "started this movement for puppy parks," 10 years ago, and now the county has six of them. Noting that there are 250,000 dog owners in this county, he said off-leash dog parks are "an important part of Fairfax County quality of life." Then, before helping cut the ribbon officially opening the park, he related someone else's quote, "My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am."
Greenbriar's Will Staub, who's wheelchair-bound, enjoyed the park Saturday with his dog Junior, a spaniel mix. "This is one of the nicer dog parks," he said. "And it's accessible for me." Staub works with A Forever Home Rescue Foundation in Chantilly, and Junior's a rescue dog. Staub said Junior loves the socialization at the new park and "the chance to get out and play with other dogs and get some exercise."
Eric Myers of Sequoia Farms came with his gigantic Great Dane, named (what else?) Hamlet. Wearing a green, "Bark if you're Irish" collar against his shiny, black coat, Hamlet had a terrific time at the park.
"WE'VE BEEN going to South Run, about 10 miles from us, so this is great," said Myers. "Hamlet's always looking for someone to play with, and it's better than a chance meeting, walking around."
Pamela Dixon traveled to Centreville's park from Fauquier County with her American pit bull terrier, Liberty. "Fauquier and Prince William [counties] don't have dog parks, yet," she said. "I've been going to Reston dog park, but this is much closer."
She also brought Swiss Miss Mocha, her mixed chocolate Lab, but came to the dog park especially to show that the pit bull breed "can be socialized and get along with other dogs." And, she added, "Liberty also has his AKC Good Canine Citizen Certificate."
There with her two beagles was Laura Vaccaro of Centreville's Country Club Manor community. A member of CentrevilleDogs, she helped with the fund-raisers, so she was thrilled to see the park finally up and running.
Her dogs are Summer, a tri-color beagle, and Newton, a blue-tick beagle named after Isaac Newton because Vaccaro is a math teacher at Chantilly High. "Even though I have a large, fenced-in yard, it's wonderful to be able to take them to a place where they can [be with other dogs] and get more exercise," she said. Until now, she took them to South Run in Springfield.
"Both my dogs are rescue dogs, and I help out when I can with BREW — Beagle Rescue Education and Welfare," said Vaccaro. "I got Newton from BREW. It rescues homeless beagles, abused dogs, [abandoned, Hurricane] Katrina dogs, ones from shelters — about to be put down — or from medical labs. I also help with SOS (Save our Snoopys) Beagles, helping transport beagles en route from Tennessee toward a new home where they'll be loved."
Susan Van Leunen of Chalet Woods came with her 11-year-old golden retriever, Madison, and husky mix, Dipsey. "I went to the Herndon Dog Park before," she said. "I'll use this now because it's much closer. I'm very happy to have it."
Sims called it "incredibly rewarding" to have this park become a reality. "It was definitely worth the work and the 2 1/2 years to see how many people appreciated what CentrevilleDogs and the county did to make it happen," she said. However, monetary donations are still needed toward any future improvements there. They may be made at www.centrevilledogs.org or by check to: CentrevilleDogs, P.O. Box 230542, Centreville, VA 20120.