By Susan L. Wright
They may not realize what's happening, but there are more than a few dogs in the area that have a good reason to celebrate this month.
George, an 11-year-old yellow lab, was basking in the spring sunshine and Buddy, a two-year-old hound, was barking hopefully at the squirrels in the trees, both taking their daily outing for granted.
George's owner, Samantha Rivera, wasn't as blasť. She knew the park was closed in November and they were lucky a group of citizens had galvanized to keep it open.
"I'm happy and extremely grateful to the people who are doing the work (required to keep it open)," she said.
It is all due to a group of people who love and use the Riviera Oaks Dog Park (aka the Holly Hill dog park to many). It will remain open for the foreseeable future -- or as long as the scores of volunteers who've signed up to maintain and care for it keep their part of the bargain.
At the April 8 Holly Hill City Commission meeting, the commissioners and mayor all voted in favor of an agreement that would keep the park, used by scores of dogs and their owners every day, available for off-leash play and other activities.
Mary Nichols, co-founder and spokeswoman for the Friends of the Riviera Oaks Dog Park, said she's confident her group will do whatever it takes to keep the park open.
Under the agreement, Volusia County is due to hand over the land to the city, with the maintenance and care becoming the long-term responsibility of the Friends' group. The city will continue to provide police protection and would deal with any major clean up due to a storm or tree falling and providing animal services.
It's just five months since Ms. Nichols arrived with her trio of dogs for their daily run to find the park closed.
"It was a shock. We had no idea that was happening," she said.
But the Holly Hill resident who calls herself "very proactive" wasn't about to just let it happen. She went straight home and started organizing.
She found other park regulars who were willing to pitch in and work to find a way to get it reopened. Together they managed to get recognized as a non-profit and convince the county to reopen the park for 90 days to give them time to come up with a workable plan to keep it open indefinitely.
"It's been a five-month process," she said. But at the end of that time, they have an organized and committed group of volunteers, some money from donations in the bank and have won approval of the city for their long-term plan.
This week the County Council was expected to sign an agreement handing over the land to the city, which will add the final stamp of approval and give the park its second chance.
Holly Hill Mayor Roy Johnson said after the vote that he's glad they've been able to work things out. "I love the doggies. I'd do anything for the doggies," he said, adding he was confident the County Council would vote to approve the agreement.
Ms. Nichols said they have a committed corps of people all signed up to mow, spray for fleas and ticks, and other basic maintenance chores, but they can always use more hands for the work. They also accept tax deductible donations.
The park isn't just a place to exercise dogs, she pointed out. It's also a place where the humans with the dogs gather, socialize and enjoy the outdoors. She said they've estimated about 100 people use the park every day, most with dogs but a few come just for the setting and the company.
The park provides doggy bags for the owners to clean up after their pets, water and a safe place. The park is divided into small and large dog areas, there's a pond on one side, circled by a walking path and a covered and lighted pavilion, provided by the Dog Fanciers Association. Various groups, including the Halifax Humane Society, sponsor events at the park, including low cost shot clinics.
For information about the Friends of the Riviera Oaks Dog Park, visit friendsoftheriveraoakspark.com.