Minneapolis dog park proposal divides Blacks, Whites

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Since 2000, six “off-leash” dog parks have been built in several city parks in Minneapolis. To use them, a permit ($35-$60) must be purchased for each dog, and the animal(s) must be licensed and vaccinated.

Martin Luther King Park, the 18½-acre park located in Minneapolis’ Sixth Park District, serves three neighborhoods: Kingfield, Bryant and Tangletown. Formerly called Nicollet Park, it was renamed in 1968 to honor the slain civil rights leader. 

King Park does not have a dog park, prompting some neighborhood residents to submit a proposal for one and present it to the city’s park board. “There are a large group of residents who basically wanted the same amenities that the other parks have, and that is a dog park,” Jonathan Lee told the MSR prior to a September 2 meeting on the issue at King Park.

“We want a dog park in our district where we can exercise our dogs,” said Lee. 

“We will have lights” in the dog park, exclaimed Heidi Forseth, a supporter of providing owners a safe place to exercise their pets.

Lee claims that at least 15 percent of the area’s dog owners are like him – Black. However, during last week’s two-hour meeting Lee seemed to be in the minority as most Blacks present were strongly against any dog park at King Park. Most Whites in attendance supported the idea.

A Black woman told the audience that building a dog park there “is a slap in the face of the Black community.”

“White people and Black people see things differently,” noted Loren Olson, a White woman.

Other Blacks there were upset over an earlier plan to build a dog park near a monument that honors Dr. King. According to Park Board President John Ervin, that plan has been permanently shelved. Instead, two other locations are being considered: the northeast corner and the southeast corner of the park.

“It was ridiculous that that [earlier plan near the monument] was an option,” Ervin told the MSR prior to the meeting.

Lee pointed out that he didn’t want a dog park installed near the King monument and wouldn’t think of disrespecting King’s memory. “My grandparents marched with Dr. King,” he said. “My grandfather got his head split open in Selma.”

“I think we probably should be fighting for more training and education about Martin Luther King at this park rather than putting a dog park here,” said Shirley Callender, who is against the dog park idea. 

“I want to see [King Park] honored for what it was meant to be,” added 88-year-old Marion McElroy, who also opposed the dog park.

“If they are going to spend $30,000, why not use that $30,000 to get a decent memorial for Dr. King, which we don’t have?” asked Willie Daniels. He also suggested the creation of a history walk trail at King Park “where you go to each station and you learn something about what Dr. King was saying. I have nothing against dogs or against them having a dog park. Just not this park.”

“I’m a dog owner, [but] I don’t think a dog park [should] be in here,” said 57-year-old Curtiss Whitlock, who added that he has lived in the area his entire life. “I walk my dog in the neighborhood – that’s enough for me.”

Last week’s meeting was “a very painful conversation,” noted Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who lives near King Park. “Emotions are really high, and we see a lot of people who care very strongly about the park.” 

The decision on whether or not to build a dog park probably won’t take place until late this year, claimed Erwin. “We have so much stuff that we have to do in September and October that I don’t see us moving before then.”

But Willie Mae Demmings, an area resident for around 42 years, is skeptical. “What I hear [is that] it is already a done deal. They [park board officials] already have their minds made up that this is what they are going to do.”

Erwin told the audience that the existing King memorial has been neglected for some time. He supports creating a community-based committee to work on it.

“It’s too bad that the dogs have made us figure out how to make the memorial a lot better,” commented At-Large Park Board Commissioner Annie Young.

Many expressed dismay that the dog park issue has become so divided along racial lines. “It shouldn’t be,” said Forseth, a White woman. “I have African Americans in my family, so it really hurts me that people who lived here for so long, who live here because of diversity, have made this into a racial issue.”

Tiffany Wilson, a Black woman, added, “I’m really struggling with how [the dog park] has become a racial issue. We are a community and should be working together, instead of dividing it.”

If installing a dog park at King Park insults Blacks “and people are hurt and offended because of that, I would be opposed [to it],” said Delaney Keyes, a White Kingfield resident. She also expressed concern that many of the people who frequently use the park, “a lot of Spanish-speaking families and Somali families and children,” did not attend the meeting to voice their opinions.

Brad Bourn, sixth district park board commissioner, said after the meeting that he still believes King Park should have a dog park. “I support this project. I want to make sure that neighbors who live near a neighborhood park have the amenities it needs. I still think that, in the long run, this is a very good project for the community.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.