History of ODAWG and Harmony Valley Off-Leash Park
Since the Harmony Valley Off-Leash Park gained official recognition from City of Oshawa there have been many “new” dog owners exercising their canine friends on the property. A lot of work by many people went on behind the scenes to establish the 25 acres as an off-leash park. Below is a summary of the lobbying that resulted in the creation of the park.
2001— Oshawa/Durham Area Walkers Group (ODAWG) and was established to lobby the City of Oshawa for a small Off-Leash Dog Park in “Orchard Area” of Harmony Creek Conservation Authority Property. The 74 paid members submitted “Roles and Responsibilities to Develop and Operate a Leash Free Area for Dogs” to the City of Oshawa, set up a bank account and held fundraising activities. The City was not prepared to make any commitment and the group’s activity level decreased.
2005— The City of Oshawa established a steering committee and presented possible plans for the development of the Harmony Creek Conservation Authority property which included baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. The dog walkers who used the property on a regular basis, presented their points of view at November public meetings and ODAWG was revitalized. The “new” ODAWG representatives met with “old” ODAWG executive members to plan how to proceed.
2006–The City of Oshawa held a second set of public presentations with a new set of proposed plans in January. ODAWG held spring clean-up and extended an invitation to City Councillors and Mayor Gray to come on a tour of the property. ODAWG members gave a power point presentation to council that expressed individual points of view on why keeping the property as a natural area where people could walk and exercise their dogs off-leash. The Council approved $32,000 for fencing, trail signs, park benches, garbage receptacles, off-leash signs, and trail improvements. There was also a recommendation that further consultation with community residents and park users be held to discuss future park improvements. City staff was authorized to not actively enforce off-leash dog walking at the park. A public open house was held in September to consult with residents and park users regarding future improvements and an off-leash area at Harmony Valley Park.
2007–A Focus session meeting was held to review the revised proposal. A report on Harmony Valley Park Improvements and Designation of an Off-Leash Dog Area was presented to the Community Services Committee. The implementation of a designated off leash area at Harmony Valley Park was agreed to and the establishment of an off leash dog volunteer association with the mandate to regularly monitor park use and etiquette, provide on-going education and awareness of responsible dog ownership and assist in funding of future off-leash area improvements was investigated.
ODAWG participated in their second Spring Clean-Up. Input from dog walkers regarding the establishment of a volunteer dog association, membership fees, and the development was actively sought for further discussion and presentation to the Community Services Committee. Junior Rangers began the installment of fencing and signs, and trail improvement at park in the summer. ODAWG Proposed Operating Model was re-drafted and circulated for park users to provide input. ODAWG representatives and City staff toured GTA off-leash areas to gather information about the operation of these facilities. The Operating Model was discussed and included the concerns from ODAWG regarding the liability associated with the organization of a volunteer group. September 25th dog walkers met, elected an executive for ODAWG and began a membership drive. A report reflecting this information was presented to the Community Services Committee in October and the draft Proposed Operating Model for an Off-Leash Volunteer Association was endorsed by Oshawa City Council.
The Result–Partnership with the City
The tour of other off-leash dog parks revealed the importance of developing working partnerships with the City to establish, maintain and organize specific areas where owners can safely walk and socialize with their dogs.
The City will provide liability coverage for volunteer “Ambassadors” and the executive of ODAWG. ODAWG will maintain contact with the City initially by having representatives from the City (Parks Services and/or Animal Services) attend meetings and eventually by supplying the minutes of the meetings. An ODAWG Newsletter/Webpage will keep members informed and be a contact point for new participants. Once the ODAWG website is operating it will be linked to the City of Oshawa Website.
A dog park users group (ODAWG) will be stewards of the property, providing input on park improvements, and assisting in problem solving if necessary. They can establish partnerships beneficial to the membership and provide information and resources regarding responsible dog ownership and care to the local community. ODAWG will also act as a liaison for groups wishing to establish off leash areas.