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OUR OPINION: GF's 'nice to have' dog-park amenity

Drive over the rise just north of the Lincoln Drive Park parking lot, and you'll see them: a lineup of cars at the bottom of the hill, parked on the grass along the drive to give their owners quick access to the dog park there.

Drive over the rise just north of the Lincoln Drive Park parking lot, and you'll see them: a lineup of cars at the bottom of the hill, parked on the grass along the drive to give their owners quick access to the dog park there.

Should Grand Forks accommodate those dog owners by building parking for them?

That depends on a few things, such as the parking accommodation's size and price, neither of which are quite clear. But assuming that the size is modest, the price is reasonable and (importantly) that the city and/or park district's finances are in good shape, then it's worth giving people who use a popular facility a convenient place to park.

The Grand Forks Park District faced a similar problem not long ago when the new dike along Belmont Drive proved popular for sledding. Planners hadn't anticipated this, so at first, there was no designated place for people to park. They parked on the grass and nearby streets instead.

The Park District could have taken a hard line, starting with banning the practice of sledding on the dike. Wisely, the district chose not to do so and instead decided to accommodate users of this suddenly popular attraction.

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The corner of Belmont Road and 13th Avenue South now features a small parking lot. And the western face of the nearby dike comes alive with adults and children on winter days.

Last week, the Grand Forks City Council entertained a request to spend $210,000 to fix the street that leads to the dog park and add new parking there. But the money suggests the dog park, originally billed as a fairly cheap attraction, suddenly is getting a lot more expensive.

The $210,000 figure is deceptive, though, because most of the money would be spent on repairing the road -- not on parking. How much is "most"? That wasn't specified during the council debate. Maybe that's because the parking area's dimensions haven't been finalized; according to Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran, council president Hal Gershman "said city staff should find the optimal parking arrangement to avoid excessive paving costs."

That's a sensible order and would help convince taxpayers that the parking area is worth building.

OK. But as some council members asked, why can't people just park in the Lincoln Drive Park parking lot and walk to the dog park that's a (long) stone's throw away?

Well, they could do that, but clearly they'd rather not, as shown by the fact that so many park by the dog park's entrance right now. True, parking is a "nice to have" rather than a "need to have" amenity. But in a Greenway that counts 20 miles of paved bike paths, pouring a little more pavement to help users of a popular attraction doesn't seem out of line.

Is this issue worth raising taxes? No. Would it be worth straining a budget that was stretched to the breaking point? No again.

But if finances are in good shape and the project can be done at reasonable cost, then this would seem a worthwhile improvement. The city should clarify the numbers, ask the Park District to chip in (another good idea) and go about getting the job done.

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-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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