People were very happy about the grand opening of the Eureka Dog Park this morning. They laughed. They smiled. They thanked each other for the years of hard work required to reach today. They cut a ribbon. They were very happy.

Still, the dogs were happier.

Mutts and pure breeds alike cut loose in the city’s first official off-leash canine recreation area. From ankle-high terriers to a chest-high Great Dane, the dogs bounded up and down the hilly property, barking, sniffing butts, and dutifully peeing on the fake fire hydrant installed for that very purpose — to be peed upon by gleeful dogs. Judging by the velocity of wagging tails and the flying ribbons of slobber, this place is a big hit with its target demographic.

Before letting the dogs out (or in, actually), Amy Washburn, secretary of the Eureka Dog Park Committee, stood at the microphone and gave a brief overview of the efforts behind the park. Some people, she said, have been working on the project for 15 years. Dog owners were meeting in the parking lot of the Bayshore Mall when they starting talking about the need for such a park — a fenced-in space where dogs could tucker themselves out while learning to socialize with other dogs.

Only an off-leash park will cut it for many high-energy dogs. “They even tear up your house less because they’re exercised,” Washburn said.

In searching for a location, many city-owned properties were ruled out by the California Coastal Commission. Organizers were left with just one option: a city-owned property tucked behind the old General Hospital, next to the Sheriff’s Office wood lot. 

The original design for the park was much more ambitious — a $350,000 vision that included water features and a four-stall bathroom. That ambitious plan was eventually scaled down out of financial necessity, and in 2009 then-Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard helped organize an official committee to develop the project.

The committee solicited donations at pet stores, held yard sales, sold T-shirts and sweatshirts — anything it took to piece together funding. “The cutest ones,” Washburn said, “were kids giving us their allowance.”

Eventually the group raised nearly $30,000. The committee hit a roadblock with insurance — an absolute necessity for construction of the park but not remotely feasible for a small community group. Fortunately, Craig Benson with the nonprofit Redwood Community Action Agency stepped in and arranged for his group to handle the insurance.

Trees were cut, slopes were graded, a cyclone fence was erected and concrete slabs were poured. There’s even a gravel parking lot compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Still not sure how to find this place? Here’s a map: