Between the Lowry Center and the Kokosing Gap Trail sits a three-acre plot of land that has been enjoyed by community members and their four-legged companions since 2008: Gambier’s very own dog park.
According to a 2007 Collegian article, Gambier Councilmember Betsy Heer was involved in the park’s creation. A dog owner herself, Heer saw a need for a park in the Village, since many community members were concerned with letting dogs off the leash.
When Heer first moved to Gambier, a group of residents and Kenyon employees who had puppies convened, and decided that they needed a place to exercise. “A number of these people got their dogs together, started the ‘puppy play group’ and used to walk in the afternoons on what are now Kenyon’s playing fields,” Heer wrote in a message to the Collegian.
Inspired by the sense of community fostered by the group, Heer began to think creatively about implementing a more sustainable solution for dog owners. Together with Gambier Councilmember Elizabeth Forman ’73, Heer turned the idea of a dog park into a reality.
A seasoned fundraiser, Heer was able to garner financial support for the dog park through events like Waffles for Woof, which raised $400 for the park. Heer also received a generous donation from the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Mount Vernon. Through fundraising efforts alone, Heer made over 40% of the $7,500 needed for the fencing of the park. To meet the rest of her goal, she petitioned the Building and Grounds Committee for matching funds from the Village.
“What sold the Committee and, ultimately, [Village] Council, was not so much the [money] raised as the fact that we had nearly 100 contributors to the project,” Heer wrote.
Heer attributes the fundraising successes, however, to her fellow community members, notably Kenyon’s Campaign Field Director Alice Straus ’75 and Fine Arts Librarian Carmen King as well as Forman’s mother.
The community’s strong interest in the park is evident to this day. Heer maintains that the park is “the center of Village life for a very dog-friendly village.” Heer also said that visitors travel from all over Gambier, Mount Vernon and Apple Valley to give their dogs a chance to play in a safe, fenced-in location.
Among these visitors are Blue Rae Semmelhack ’22 and her French bulldog Ruty. Semmelhack expressed gratitude for the park and the safe and happy space it provides to dogs and dog owners alike. “I like how I may see local people with their dogs or Kenyon people at any given time, or if I’m lucky, I’ll get it all to myself and my dog,” Semmelhack wrote in a message to the Collegian. “When the weather is nice I’m looking forward to going there with a book and sitting at one of the picnic tables while Ruty roams and sniffs the huge gated park.”
The community’s interest is reflected within the park’s parameters. Heer explained that four of the park’s trees were purchased through memorial contributions in memory of past dog park users. The benches and picnic tables are named for beloved community dog owners and their dogs.
Heer also noted that the park is used to celebrate a variety of events, including birthdays — dog and human ones alike. “Great friendships have been born and cemented in the dog park,” Heer said.