PORT TOWNSEND — Wynston Becker rolled on the ground, clutching a half-flat basketball and attempting to yank it away from a large white dog.
Friday was the first time the 9-year-old had visited Mountain View Dog Park, a 1-acre area surrounded by a new fence between The ReCyclery and the pool at the Commons near 1925 Blaine St.
The dog, Gabe, a golden retriever, didn’t even belong to him.
“I just simply like playing soccer and playing with dogs,” Wynston said. “I just picked up that he wanted to play with the ball.”
That intuitive nature brought more than a dozen people to the new park, a vision many community members have shared for the past four years.
As dogs of all shapes and sizes frolicked in the field, Debbie Jahnke stood outside with her husband, Rick, and smiled ear-to-ear.
It was a much different feeling than she had last November, when the Port Townsend City Council was reviewing budget priorities and listed the dog park as an unmet need.
The Jahnkes, each of whom serve on community boards, are at nearly every council meeting. Debbie Jahnke couldn’t speak that night because she had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the sixth time, and her first chemotherapy appointment was earlier in the day.
Instead, she submitted written comments Nov. 5, 2018, that highlighted the city’s process to update its leash laws dating back to 2014.
“The unintended consequence of the recession is that you have effectively taken away all locations for off-leash activity without providing alternatives absent the tiny and completely inadequate Chetzemoka Dog Park,” she wrote.
The Jahnkes have been part of the nonprofit Dog Recreation on the Peninsula (DROP) along with City Council member Bob Gray, who said they put together a booth four years ago at the Jefferson County Fair to gauge community interest.
Rick Jahnke is the current president of DROP; Gray is the vice president.
At the time, they were just getting off the ground.
“We didn’t know how many people might be interested in signing the support letter,” Gray said about the form they circulated at the fair.
The group gained 700 signatures and had to turn away money because they weren’t set up to raise funds, he said.
“We had people writing checks, and we had to say, ‘Hold on, we’re not ready for that yet,’ ” Gray said.
The city originally identified Mountain View as an ideal location, but the Port Townsend School District-owned property was going through a master-planning phase, and several stakeholders were involved.
Rick Jahnke said two other potential sites popped up in the past few years, but Mountain View made the most sense.
The Jahnkes credited retired City Manager David Timmons and Alex Wisniewski, the city’s parks, recreation and community services director, with keeping a dog park in the overall plans.
Kim Carver of Port Hadlock, another community advocate who created the closed Facebook group “Oly Pen Pack!,” has pushed the effort in the past year and got advice from many City Council members on how to do it.
“I think they just needed to see renewed support because Bob and Debbie had been working for so long,” Carver said. “Their attempts at dog parks had not been working out.”
This spring, Wisniewski wrote an email to Debbie Jahnke and told her he’d put together estimates for both a 4-foot fence and a 6-foot option. He gave her the go-ahead to start fundraising.
“It took about three minutes,” Debbie said. “I wrote back and said, ‘We’re done.’ ”
The Jahnkes donated $25,000 to pay for the fencing, and the City Council approved the transaction April 22.
The park has welcomed visitors for the past two weeks with two areas for large dogs — they will be rotated from time to time to allow the grass to recover — and one area for small dogs. A sign for rules arrived Friday and was installed later in the day.
While an official opening and dedication has yet to be scheduled, area residents and visitors have ben busy in the park.
Gabe, playfully chasing Wynston throughout the park, belongs to Mary Armstrong, who left Orcas Island in an RV looking for a new place to live and fell in love with the Key City.
“I didn’t make it past Port Townsend,” Armstrong said. “I’ve met so many nice people in this amazing community.”
Lane DeCamp moved to the area three months ago. He had previously lived on Bainbridge Island and spent four years in Texas.
“I’ve known this town my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been coming here since the 1960s.”
DeCamp brought his two Aussies, Rose, 14, and Pearl, 3. The youngest was a professional cattle herder in the south.
“She was going on cattle drives almost every weekend, some for 25 to 30 miles,” he said.
DeCamp had been watching the progress of the park and said he visited the first day the fence was up.
“This is something that’s going to be great for the whole town and for the region,” he said.
“We have a big contingent of dog owners here from all walks of life, from big artists to politicians. We all mix it up with our dogs, and it’s a unifying feature for the whole community.”
Carver, who works at the Northwest Maritime Center, compared the social interaction with getting out of one’s personal bubble.
“Dog parks are great places for random people to socialize with each other, not just dogs,” she said. “It’s so awesome because it pulls in a variety of people so you’re not in your own echo chamber.”
Carver said there are two young cousins, a boy and a girl, who live nearby and have been riding their bikes to the park each day to fill water bowls.
They don’t bring a dog, but they play with the ones who are there.
“That’s the best part about dog parks,” said Debbie Jahnke, who no longer has a dog. “You don’t have to have one of your own.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.