Camas leaders resurrect off-leash dog park talks

Parks director meets with DOGPAW, will soon gauge community interest

A DOGPAW sign adorns a fence outside the nonprofit group's IKE Memorial Dog Park in Vancouver, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Scott Long, of Vancouver, greets his dogs, 9-year-old Beni (center) and 6-year-old Darby (right) on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, at IKE Memorial Dog Park in Vancouver, one of four public dog parks operated by the Clark County nonprofit group Dog Owners Group for Park Access, known more commonly by its acronym, DOGPAW.

It has been more than six years since Camas-Washougal’s only off-leash dog park — the Donald and Angeline Stevenson Off Leash Area located on a 16-acre parcel at 3003 Addy St., in Washougal — closed its gates, forcing local dog owners in search of an off-leash park to shuttle their pooches to other parts of Clark County.

Since then, Camas-Washougal officials have tried to find a suitable space for a new dog park to no avail. In 2017, Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner John Spencer proposed using a 5.5-acre parcel near the Grove Field airport and partnering with the nonprofit Dog Owners Group for Park Access in Washington (DOGPAW) for park operations and maintenance duties.

That plan eventually fizzled out, but officials didn’t give up. In late 2021, Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam met with members of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission and then-Washougal Mayor Rochelle Ramos to scout for possible off-leash dog park sites in Camas. The group discussed a joint venture between Camas and Washougal, and explored the pros and cons for several Camas parks properties.

“This conversation is not new to Camas,” Lam told the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission members in August. “It’s been a long journey of not building a dog park here in Camas, but I’m hoping we’re going to approach this slightly differently, and that, hopefully, we can bring this to fruition this time.”

This time around, Lam reached out to DOGPAW President Marty Rutkovitz and discussed the possibility of DOGPAW, which already maintains four off-leash dog parks in Clark County, partnering with the city of Camas to help operate an off-leash park within city limits.

Rutkovitz presented information about DOGPAW to the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission in August.

“We’re basically property managers,” Rutkovitz told the Commission. “. We manage three parks for Clark County and one park owned by the city of Vancouver … and all of the work is done through unpaid volunteers.”

DOGPAW asks park users to become members of the nonprofit for a suggested donation of $25 a year, but Rutkovitz said some people donate more while others donate less. Some users, he said, don’t donate at all.

“Truthfully, at any of our four parks on any given day, out of the hundreds of dog owners that come, only about 25 percent are members,” Rutkovitz said.

The key to building a thriving Camas dog park, he said, would be having buy-in from local users — many of whom, he suspects, are currently using DOGPAW’s 8-acre DAKOTA Memorial Dog Park at 1515 N.E. 164th Ave. in Vancouver.

“The key to having a dog park is to get, manage and sustain an active membership,” Rutkovitz said. “There’s no magic number for it. Each park has its own unique membership.”

Ellen Burton, a member of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission, reminded other Commission members in August that the issue of building an off-leash dog park came up in surveys during the city’s outreach for its updated Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces (PROS) Plan in 2022.

“One of the themes of interest to our community was recreation with our dogs,” Burton said. “It’s always been very important to our community members.”

The Commission’s talk with Rutkovitz, Burton said, was a “first step of opening the conversation about a potential dog park.”

Before the city settles on an appropriate site or forms a partnership with DOGPAW, Lam said she wants to truly gauge the community’s interest in having a public off-leash dog park in Camas.

“We want to make sure our community is fully ready, (because) we know we don’t have the capacity to pick up the slack for DOGPAW if we needed to,” Lam said.

The Camas parks director recently went to a few possible dog-park sites with Rutkovitz to discuss the benefits and challenges of each site.

“A lot of sites are near bodies of water which is challenging because those are also areas with sensitive archeological history,” Lam explained.

Once they’ve figured out which city-owned site might be best suited for a dog park, Lam said she would go back to the Parks and Recreation Commission for more discussion before bringing the issue to the Camas City Council.

“We are definitely going to revisit the sites that were visited in the past,” Lam said. “And we can look at new land in North Shore that we own now.”

Lam said the city still has the same constraints it had when other city and Port officials tried to get a new dog park off the ground in the past, including finding a site that could offer the types of amenities a dog park requires, including a parking lot.

“Fencing is going to be important,” Lam told the Commission in August. “And other amenities: you want to give humans and pets water, have shade, a seating area, trash for pet waste, bathrooms … and then we’ve got maintenance with all of this. So it’s not just fencing an area and calling it good. There’s more to this than people think.”

Rutkovitz said DOGPAW’s biggest costs for the four off-leash parks they operate in Vancouver, Hockinson and Brush Prairie — all of which are named for fallen K-9 officers — involve the collection and disposal of pet waste.

“Our two biggest costs are poop bags, which is around $10,000 to $12,000 a year for all four parks … and garbage pick-up service, which costs a couple thousand (dollars) a month.”

If the city of Camas and DOGPAW did decide to partner on a local dog park, the city would likely need to take on the physical mowing and maintenance of the park.

“I feel comfortable with the way Trang is approaching this,” Rutkovitz said.

When he and Lam went to explore potential dog-park sites in Camas, Rutkovitz said they ran into a few dog owners who seemed excited by the idea of a future off-leash park.

“We encountered four or five dog-walkers and they all said, “Absolutely, we would love it,’” Rutkovitz said. “I think, if (the city of Camas does) pull this off, it would be a really cool thing for Camas.”

DOGPAW, Rutkovitz said, “is in the wings to help and answer questions.”

“It’s all a possibility right now,” Rutkovitz added. “DOGPAW is just positioning (itself) to be there and to help and advice for what they need. We can tell them what we do and the way we operate so that, when the decision comes, they know what they would be getting.”

Lam said she plans to move forward with the issue by first gauging the community’s interest in building and maintaining an off-leash dog park.

“The reason we’re having this conversation is to help our Commission and our public understand that this is a big project to develop a good dog park,” Lam said. “We can’t just keep bringing DOGPAW in every five years and saying, “Oh, we think we can build this park.’ We do want to respect DOGPAW’s time and commitment to pets and make sure we can do this before spending a lot of time on site selection.”

Rutkovitz said he is taking the idea of a possible DOGPAW, city of Camas partnership to his board this week.

“I don’t want to get their hopes up,” Rutkovitz said. “But I do hope it goes through. We’d love to work with the city of Camas … and we believe off-leash parks are so healthy for getting dogs outside and getting that energy out. It’s healthy for our fur-babies and for their moms and dads.”