March 9, 2012
For far too long, Ursula and Valencia had to wade through huge puddles, often long after it rained, in McCarren Park’s dog run.
Far too many times, they looked up at their owner, Christine Murray, to signal that something just wasn’t quite right. Christine and other loyal visitors to the run knew there was a longstanding drainage problem, and that they were going to need to galvanize support and raise money to fix it.
While a daunting task, Murray knew it was possible. After all, she needed only to glance around the property to see the other improvements that she catalyzed though a creative array of funding sources like film shoot royalty fees from "Law & Order" and a Partnerships for Parks grant: a new area for small dogs, new benches surrounding the run, and a new fence and holding area that keep the dogs from shimmying out of the enclosed play space.
Now, she saw her two Brussels griffons, and other dogs in the neighborhood, daintily traipsing around the puddles, wanting to run but realizing their limitations.
“We knew how much work it would be to get a new drainage system installed, but we went for it,” Murray said. “We were determined to do it for the community and for our dogs. We’re a kooky bunch of people.”
Though maybe not as kooky as she thinks. In 2010, there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities across the U.S., according to the Trust for Public Land. That was a 34 percent jump over five years. Parks overall increased only 3 percent during that time. Enthusiasm for dog runs is spreading across New York City, too. Even Parks Commissioner Benepe told The New York Times that dog owners make parks safer by their constant presence “day in and day out, despite the weather.”
Murray is a classic example. A resident of North Williamsburg for more than 20 years, she’s tied to the community and is a fixture at the run. She and her dogs are the first ones in the park in the morning and the last ones out at night, she said.
The effort to raise money and gain approval for the drainage system installation wasn’t easy. She and her group, the McCarren Park Dog Run Association, met multiple times with the Parks Department to discuss the hiring of a contractor, the obtaining of permits and the approvals of arborists. Just as they had done with the fencing and benches, they cobbled together funds, this time from local pet groups like PS9 Pet Supplies, Happy Dogs and NYCPets.com and with the help of the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. And just two weeks before the project was slated to begin, with $900 to go, online donations from the community pushed them over the top.
In October, two and a half years after the project began, the system was successfully installed.
“We really did something amazing as a community,” Murray said. “We saw a problem, found a solution and worked hard to get there.”
While she says her group is a little fatigued from the project, at some point soon she’d like to focus on the installation of lighting for the run. Murray says that the key for any similar community group is to understand that the opportunities for change exist and are attainable.
“People value getting involved in a dog run or a park but don’t know how to access ways of improving it," she said. "Applying for grants or getting approved for permits isn’t necessarily an obvious route for people at first. But those options are there, and it’s a model that can be used in a lot of ways.”