When St. James resident Matt Leaman realized that his dogs needed to get more socialization with other dogs like everyone else in the surrounding area he found one of the closest options to be a 40 minute drive to Mankato. With the cost of gas and other expenses that go along with the trip and also the time spent in the car Leaman knew that St. James and surrounding towns needed to build a park in the area. Currently the closest dog park locations are New Ulm, Fairmont, and Mankato.

While building a close by dog park is a benefit for dog owners and the community Leaman still knew that getting approval, and proper funding could be a challenge. The first step was to get a City Council member on board so when Leaman asked Nonnie Hanson if she could support the dog park she was quick to say yes, and from there the dog park concept took off. The next step was to approach the City Council which took place in the Summer of 2015. The Council felt that the dog park would be a good idea and they said they would support it. The next step was to form a committee that would help with every step of the project. The committee consists of Matt Leaman, Margaret Maire, Nonnie Hanson, Steve and Jessica Lindee, Sam Hansen, and Jamie Scheffer.

The next step was to try to raise money for the park. While Leaman was one of the biggest advocates for the park he knew that he wasn’t the best at public speaking. But like many community projects the committee had many different talents on it including someone who gives many presentations for a living County Attorney Steve Lindee. While Leaman thought Steve Lindee would be the best pick to give the presentation Steve had his wife Jessica give the presentation who has experience in presenting. Steve Lindee and Matt Leaman brought up the Dog Park idea at the Community Growth Initiative’s Bright Ideas Workshop and became finalists. As part of the final presentation they had to hammer out details of the project including location. After the group examined a few different options they eventually decided that thee extra land where the composite site is would be the perfect spot. The land which is about 2.75 acres is all city owned land which meant that it would cost no money for the land. Leaman and Hansen both said that one of the best qualities about the location they picked, and why it is such a unique spot is because there is plenty of shade for the dogs. One of the biggest concerns with the other locations was the lack of shade.

Jessica Lindee with the help of the committee prepared and gave a presentation at the Community Growth Initiative’s finalist meeting in hopes that this Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) program would fund the whole project. While they were a finalist for a grant the Leadership Team said that the project was so good that they would be able to find funding for it no matter what. Jamie Scheffer who is the Economic Director for St. James says that she is very happy that even though some project were not picked for the grant money the projects still continued. “There were five great project ideas that came out of the Bright Ideas Workshop, all with the goal of re-energizing downtown. The two that were funded were the Market STJ Billboard and the Artwalk. The idea to start a group home was looked into and was unable to happen due to state legislature changes; however, the Opera House façade restoration is being pursued through more appropriate grants with the help of SWMHP, and now the Dog Park is coming to fruition through generous local donations, a City match and a Rotary Grant. There is a lot of great momentum in St. James right now and it is wonderful to see so many positive investments in our community, not only from these projects, but business investments, the school construction, highway 4, new watersports, Artplace etc,” said Scheffer.

After the disappointing news the committee started working on finding more money from different service organizations and clubs. The committee also many different fundraisers in hopes to make some money. Recently with large donations made by service clubs and organizations, along with other donations they are close to the amount needed to open the park this Spring. The dog park currently has $13,124. 11 of the $16,750 needed for the park. With the land being free the costs for the park include fencing which costs $14,500, a pet waste station which is $750, signage is $1000, and water which is $500.

For the full story pick up your copy of the 10-26 print edition of the Plaindealer.