Alaqua Animal Refuge (Freeport, Florida 32439) has rescued thousands of dogs since opening on the Emerald Coast four years ago. Now, the no-kill shelter and adoption center is rescuing Walton County’s only dog park, Bark Park, Inc. Recently, the Walton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Alaqua Animal Refuge as the new operator of the park.
Bark Park, located on J.D. Miller Road in South Walton, was founded in 2006 by a group of citizens who realized the need for such an amenity in the area. Walton County, which owns the property, donated several acres for the park, and an all-volunteer board ran its operations for many years.
In December 2010, the off-leash park was in peril of closing due to economic reasons. Laurie Hood, president and founder of Alaqua Animal Refuge, expressed interest in the non-profit assuming operational responsibilities for the park. Several reports in January announced that the park lacked complete insurance coverage, and county officials closed the park. However, Laurie and the Alaqua Animal Refuge board of directors were determined to save the park.
“We understand what a valuable asset the park is to our community, so we worked very hard to find the appropriate insurance coverage that would finally allow us to assume operations and reopen it for the dog lovers of the Emerald Coast,” said Laurie.
On the day of the vote, Commissioner Cecilia Jones said, “I was disappointed to learn that Bark Park, Inc. was no longer able to partner with Walton County in providing this amenity for our community. Yet, through the joint efforts of our county staff and the willingness of Alaqua Animal Refuge taking on this endeavor, I am pleased to see Bark Park reopen soon. Laurie Hood’s vision for the park will bring a new vitality to South Walton and our visitors.”
The park reopened this spring as Alaqua Animal Refuge’s Bark Park, and while it is associated with the refuge, it will stand alone as an independent non-profit, allowing for separate budgets and donation allocations. “While we see a great opportunity to have an affiliation between these two animal-focused entities, we want to make sure that donors for both the refuge and the park are comfortable with how their gifts are being used, ” Laurie said.
Alaqua Animal Refuge’s long-term plans for the park include improved landscaping, a sheltered seating area, and the installation of an agility course. The park may also serve as a location for obedience training and pet-adoption events.
Alaqua Animal Refuge’s Bark Park will offer a variety of annual memberships. Memberships issued by the former organization will be honored by presenting a Bark Park card. The park will also offer sponsorship opportunities for businesses interested in offering support.
“Our mission at Alaqua Animal Refuge is to save animals in need. We have not lost site of that goal, we are just broadening the possibilities of what we can do to better advocate for the humane treatment of animals through the great forum this park gives us. We look forward to working with Walton County officials and our park members to take Alaqua Animal Refuge’s Bark Park beyond an amenity, to a true community asset,” said Laurie.
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