Sharpsburg councilwoman spearheading off-leash dog park

A newly elected Sharpsburg councilwoman is hitting the ground running with an idea that she said will benefit residents and their four-legged friends.

Carrie Tongarm is working to bring an off-leash dog park to the borough. It’s a project that’s been gathering steam since 2018 when she first moved to the riverfront town.

“During the pandemic, I became acutely aware of how much my dogs, and myself, would benefit from getting outside and running free,” Tongarm said.

She’s heard from many residents who are interested in the project, too.

Councilwoman Kayla Portis said people have expressed to her the desire to have a dog park for years.

“I would love to see this vision become reality,” she said.

Portis said her family’s beloved poodle, George, passed away last fall. The family would love to welcome another furry friend to the house – and they would enjoy a space for it to run around and play.

She said a dog park would create the potential for human socialization as well.

“It would create opportunities for community engagement and health benefits,” she said.

Tongarm’s family owns three rescue dogs. She said it’s sometimes difficult to manage all three on leashes and that taking walks is not always stimulating enough for them.

“Having a local park where they can run around and socialize with other pups would be amazing,” she said.

In coming months, there will be planning sessions that focus on location and design if council green-lights the project.

“I have watched the large open space at Kennedy park remain underutilized 99% of the time and have often wished for an off-leash dog area in that location,” Tongarm said.

The park is largely unused unless there is a festival or event, and even then, crowds rarely fill the space, she said.

Tongarm plans to solicit the advice of animal wellness professionals.

Council member Jon Jaso said he favors the idea, but worries where the proper location would be.

“Everyone wants a dog park, but no one wants it near them,” Jaso said.

“Borough property is scarce and used for public parks and open spaces. We can’t just take a vacant lot from someone and say, ‘Here, there is your dog park.’

Jaso also questioned who would maintain the off-leash area.

“If someone wants to donate a large piece of property, fence it in and then maintain it, then great, let’s get a dog park,” he said.

“Until then though, we have a very tight budget for next year and beyond.”

Tongarm said fencing, gates and signs would be an initial cost, but that Kennedy Park already has dog waste bags and trash cans so those expenses wouldn’t change. She plans to seek urban planners to weigh in on designs that might include play structures, shade screens and resurfacing materials if the area is prone to mud.

“I would also want to make sure that there is no additional burden on our public works department with respect to clean-up or maintenance,” she said.

“The benefits of having a year-round community gathering space outweigh any impact to special event space. Dog parks are community spaces that enhance the neighborhood and encourage camaraderie between neighbors.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .