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Best Dog Park: Rincon Valley Community Dog Park

Best of Sonoma: Dog park, Rincon Valley Community Park. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

SUZIE RODRIGUEZ,

It’s not surprising that Rincon Valley Community Dog Park walked away with 2015 “Best of Sonoma County” honors. Since being founded in 1992 as Santa Rosa’s first-ever pooch park, it has been cared for in a dedicated fashion by a large network of enthusiastic volunteers.

“The community back then raised part of the funding for the fence that surrounds the dog park, and the city matched those funds,” said Adrian Mertens, marketing and outreach coordinator for Santa Rosa’s Recreation and Parks Department. “So the volunteers have been supportive from the beginning. They care for the park in many ways and work closely with our department’s volunteer coordinator, Elaine Gutsch. They even have their own blog and Facebook page.”

Originally a half-acre park nestled within 18.7-acre Rincon Valley Community Park, the dog park was expanded in 2014 to three-quarters of an acre. Dogs can cavort unleashed in the fenced lawn and wood chip areas, and in a small swimming pond. There’s a doggie drinking fountain and separate areas for large and small dogs.

Once a year, the volunteers undertake the massive job of reseeding the park’s turf.

“We just want to keep the park nice and grassy for our dogs,” said Janice Harnisch, who keeps the 600-volunteer email list and serves as the group’s unofficial facilitator.

The volunteers purchase loam dirt to fill holes and renew the soil, spread it with rented rollers, distribute the seed — this year’s mixture was nine parts dwarf fescue to one part bluegrass — and put up fencing to keep dogs out until spring (the wood chip-covered area is used in winter).

The result, as Harnisch explained: “We’re the only dog park with grass in Santa Rosa.”

But work isn’t everything, at least to these social dog park volunteers. As many as 40 people and their dogs make it to the Friday evening potluck dinners, which run from April to November. There are also group restaurant dinners, monthly birthday celebrations, holiday get-togethers, lively work parties and endless talk about dogs.

“We get lots of compliments about the park,” said Harnisch. “We are all very proud.”