Originally Published: December 19, 2013 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - The dog park on Willow Creek Road was abuzz with the news Wednesday: Out of more than 1,000 entries, Prescott was the final choice for a half-million-dollar dog park renovation.
When Linda Nichols - the Prescott resident who entered the dog-food company's contest - stopped by the park late Wednesday, everyone there already seemed to know the news.
"Congratulations, good job. Can't wait," fellow dog park user Dan Decker said as Nichols arrived at the park with her dog Callie.
Pam Decker added: "You did such a good job."
As Nichols talked with the Deckers, others stopped by, adding their congratulations.
Earlier Wednesday, the Beneful company had made it official that Nichols' proposal for a firefighter-themed dog park called "Sirens and Hydrants" had won the 2013 Beneful Dream Dog Park contest.
Even before Nichols could send out the email she had planned for Wednesday morning, she said she was getting calls from friends who had already seen the news on Beneful's website.
The contest, which Nichols entered in about August after seeing a commercial on television, required a 250-word essay and a video explaining the entry.
Nichols' entry emphasized the trauma that the community went through this past summer, with the loss of 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
"We've had a rough year," Nichols said. "I think they (Beneful) want to help us heal. I do think our message was strong."
In a press release Wednesday morning, Beneful announced that Nichols' proposal was a winner, stating, "Nichols dreamt big with a commemorative firefighter-themed entry that featured a variety of creative elements including: a red fire truck playground area for dogs to get exercise; a bright hydrant water feature for dogs to cool off after playing in the hot Arizona sun; and a bronze Dalmatian statue to greet two- and four-legged visitors at the front gate."
Beneful brand director Brent Gleckler added that the company "is dedicated to celebrating the special relationships people share with their four-legged best buddies, and one way we do this is through our annual Dream Dog Park Contest."
The details about how the dog park renovation will proceed are still to come. The news release notes that Beneful would announce the exact location of the renovation in early 2014, and expects construction to begin in the spring.
City officials expressed enthusiasm for the project Wednesday morning.
"I think it will certainly lift the spirits of the community," Communications and Public Affairs Manager Pete Wertheim said. "It's something we can all get behind."
Mayor Marlin Kuykendall added: "It's a good thing for Prescott. We are such an animal-friendly community."
Nichols said she had received positive support from the city on her entry. Weeks ago, she met with Wertheim, Kuykendall, and Recreation Services Joe Baynes after learning her entry was one of 14 finalists.
"(The city officials) were just wonderful from the beginning," Nichols said.
A number of different locations have come up as possibilities, Nichols said, including the dog park on Willow Creek Road.
Wherever the dog park renovation ends up being located, Nichols said she feels it will be a boon to the community.
"This is a big dog town," she said, noting that many people choose to use the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza to walk their dogs.
"Really, if we had a nicer dog park, I think people would go there," Nichols said.
In recent weeks, Nichols had taken her project to the community, meeting with groups and officials to spread the word about the need to cast votes on Beneful's website. The votes counted for 30 percent of Beneful's choice, while the judging counted for 70 percent of the final total score.
The Beneful Dream Team consists of designer and dog lover Nate Berkus, who will help design the park; licensed contractor Jason Cameron who hosts DIY Network's "Desperate Landscapes" and "Man Caves," pet expert Arden Moore, who oversees the renovation from the dog's point of view; and a Beneful brand representative.
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter: @Cindy_Barks.