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Commissioners back dog park project

Millennial group ready to kick off fundraising campaign

STERLING – The Sterling Park District threw its support behind a dog park project pitched to its board of commissioners Monday.

A millennial group affiliated with the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Sterling Main Street received the green light to start a fundraising campaign, although a site for the park has yet to be determined.

A millennial subgroup of seven members, who between them own nine dogs, have set an ambitious timeline for the dog park. The initial budget proposal was $83,000. The cost of fencing, a big expense, was whittled down to $38,000 from $70,000 because students from the Whiteside Area Career Center would do the work under the supervision of a teacher and one employee of Sterling Fence Co.

"We're proposing $83,000, but we'll try to fundraise $100,000 because something unexpected always comes up when you do these projects," said Josh Johnson, director of the career center. "We'd like to raise $50,000 this summer for fencing and a walking path so the students could start working in the fall."

The millennials made it clear that fundraising could continue for upgrade phases in which things like a pavilion, agility course, benches, and designated seating areas could be added.

The board ultimately gave its unanimous support, but commissioners peppered the group with questions.

"I'm for this project, but we have to make sure we protect the taxpayers and people who don't have dogs," Board President Marvin Reyes said. "I've been on the board a long time, and I'm used to seeing master plans."

Reyes said he'd like to see a final master plan with a complete vision, in phases, of what the dog park would look like – a 2- or 3-year plan with costs.

The group said it has done a more complete plan it can submit to the board, but focused on the first phase for presentation purposes.

The millennial group has taken up several issues that are related to workforce development. In addition to the dog park initiative, other subgroups have been formed, including specialty panels on quality of life components and riverfront development. Research done by the group shows that dog parks are a big draw for the millennials – anyone now between the ages of 22 and 37 – who are projected to make up 75% of the nation's workforce by 2025.

"There are probably at least 5,000 dogs already just in Sterling, and data shows that dog parks are the number two amenity millennials look for when moving to a community," said Martha Toth, a group member who works in the animal division at Wahl Clipper.

The proposed layout was done for Thomas Park, but Sinnissippi and Hoover could also be considered. A 2 1/2-acre area is designated for large dogs, while a separate 1-acre space is for small canines.

Commissioner Jeff Hippen not only supported the project, he suggested that the park district provide some financial backing in addition to the land.

"I think this is something the community needs and the park district should be behind it and put some funding into it as long as it is branded as a park district facility," Hippen said.

Hippen's only concern was parking. There would be some street parking available and a lot at nearby Franklin Elementary School. The park district did get an estimate of $35,000 on a parking lot that size 2 years ago.

A public meeting, where neighbors could air any concerns, would be held before any work on the dog park begins.

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