Jenn Chushcoff loves taking Winston to the sprawling off-leash dog park at Fort Steilacoom Park whenever she can.
The Tacoma woman’s 1-year-old Shetland sheepdog gets a workout running on trails and through tall grass at the fenced Lakewood park. His only priority is to fetch the ball his master throws.
But Chuscoff, 33, wouldn’t mind having an off-leash dog park closer. Fort Steilacoom is about a 20-minute drive from her home.
A University Place group hopes to deliver such a canine oasis near the Chambers Bay Golf Course sooner rather than later.
Volunteer group members are looking for some help from Lakewood. They also would like flexibility from Pierce County officials who they fear might get tied up with other business, including plans for the 2015 U.S. Open and the amateur tournament in 2010.
SUNDogs (SUN stands for Safe, Unleashed and Natural) is a nonprofit group asking the county to let it build an off-leash area at Chambers Creek Properties, the former gravel mine in University Place.
The Fort Steilacoom dog park is excellent, they say, but it’s so popular that the region needs another one. Other than that park, the dog group says, the next closest major off-leash areas are in King or Kitsap counties.
Building a large off-leash dog area is in the county’s master plan for Chambers Creek, but the timetable doesn’t show results as fast as SUNDogs wants.
Chushcoff, a transplant from California, said she was amazed how clean the dog park at Fort Steilacoom is. She and Winston visit at least weekly.
“It’s great for getting the dog exercise, getting to meet people,” she said during a visit last week. “But we’d be happy to have one closer.”
Joseph Scorcio, program manager at Chambers Creek, said the property’s master site plan calls for three areas where off-leash activity would be allowed:
• The North Beach area, where a pedestrian overpass over the railroad tracks is under construction. It’s scheduled for completion in 2010.
• The Southern Area that will include more than six fenced acres for dogs to run free. It’s not scheduled for completion until sometime after 2010. The dog lovers group says it’s been told the park won’t be finished until at least 2014.
• Along the Chambers Creek Canyon trails.
The three-year-old SUNDogs says it’s willing to raise the money and volunteer the labor to develop the off-leash area to the south.
All the county needs to do, said Rod Giffels, the group’s chairman, is allow workers to reach the site via an existing access road.
Otherwise, the group is asking for a temporary site near the Central Meadow area.
But Scorcio said it might not be that simple. The dog areas are just one of many amenities at Chambers Creek that will be under construction in the coming years, and fast-tracking development would be difficult.
In the Southern Area, for example, the county would have to figure out how to develop the dog park without interfering with construction of a wastewater treatment plant, he said.
Preparations for the big golf tournaments are unrelated to work on dog park facilities, he said.
“My general view on this thing is we just have to work through these details,” he said.
“The off-leash dog area is not being held up. It’s not on the back burner.”
The SUNDogs group, whose members include UP City Councilwoman Debbie Klosowski, believes it can be done without disrupting construction and planning for the U.S. Open.
Last Monday, Giffels asked the Lakewood City Council to support the group’s cause. He noted that Fort Steilacoom Park gets lots of use and reminded Lakewood leaders that UP contributed about $10,000 toward that park. It opened in 2006.
The group isn’t necessarily asking for money in return, just a letter to help persuade the county to do the work, Giffels said.
“All we’re asking is that we’re allowed to go ahead without taking up much time at all,” he said.
The Lakewood City Council, which is scheduled to discuss today whether to support SUNDogs, appeared warm to the idea.
Councilman Walter Neary said it’s great that Pierce County built an amenity for “rich golfers.”
But there are plenty of dog owners who would also use the property under the right conditions.
“There’s a huge need,” he said.
Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653