As Jessica Voogd, Forest Park’s public property commissioner, welcomed “so many wonderful friends, and their humans” to the village dog park, 632 Circle Ave., many of those friends ran and played – and one of them accidentally yanked the cord connecting her microphone to the sound system.
“We’re getting off to a bit of a ruff start,” Voogd joked as soon as the equipment was reconnected.
But neither the drizzling rain nor the technical difficulties ruined the fun as dozens of dogs tried out the new playground equipment installed earlier this year. Now-11-year-old Juliet Harrington, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign to buy the equipment, was on hand with her mom and aunt to enjoy the festivities. She said the fundraiser was about more than just a dog park – it was about using her voice to better her community.
The dog park, sometimes known as Forest Bark, is one of the two pocket parks that are still owned and operated by the village – and, as such, fall under Voogd’s jurisdiction. Residents and non-residents alike can use a dog park, but they must get a 1-year permit that entitles them to a key to the park gates.
It was Harrington who pitched the new dog park equipment to Voogd and Public Works Director Sal Stella. The officials were impressed with the presentation, agreeing to not only help with the fundraiser, but to run the dog park equipment options by Harrington and her mother, Allison Harrington.
The fundraiser netted $5,000, with a significant matching donation coming from Juliet Harrington’s grandparents.
The village bought a slide-like structure, a tunnel and a set of three honeycomb-like hoops. They also redid the dog park sign to an art nouveau style piece evocative of 1920s railroad advertising posters. The village put up a display on the back of the sign that included a recognition plaque for Harrington’s efforts and a copy of the Review’s first article about the fundraiser.
While the new equipment was installed weeks ago, it wasn’t until the April 29 seasonal grand opening that dog owners got a chance to bring their pets to try it first-hand.
Paul Theriult brought his dog and had him run through the new equipment. Afterwards, he reflected that his dog was probably happiest simply playing frisbee – but he still thought the renovated dog part was “amazing.”
In her speech, Voogd thanked Stella, Village Administrator Moses Amidei, village employees who put everything together, and the pair that kicked everything off.
“I really want to express how appreciative I am of Juliet and her mother, Allison,” she said. “Government can move a bit slower at times than we’d like.”
Mayor Rory Hoskins thanked the Harringtons and the Recreation Board.
“Juliet – this is your day,” he said.
She, in turn, thanked her family and everyone who donated for their support.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said, adding that there were many times that her mom pulled over to talk to dog owners to get them to donate.
“As we open this dog park today, let’s build our community stronger and more connected,” Harrington added.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes, whose term is expiring on May 8, said that it was inspiring to see someone her age step up.
“This young lady did a heck of a job, getting all those contributions – and this is what it turned into,” he reflected. “You look forward to young people getting involved in things, and to have [Juliet] not only coming up with an idea but presenting and selling it – this is a great thing.”