Originally Published: December 11, 2014 6:03 a.m.
At the opening of Prescott's new Dream Dog Park, Linda Nichols got a rousing cheer from the crowd.
Nichols, the 2013 winner of Beneful's half-million-dollar dog park makeover, has made local dog lovers very happy.
Several hundred people - many accompanied by their dogs - turned out for the official unveiling of the renovated Willow Creek Dog Park.
Dogs of all sizes and breeds careened through the park, while their owners checked out the new features - hydrant-style misters to allow the dogs to beat the Arizona heat; a replicated antique fire truck for agility activities; a half-acre of vivid green canine artificial turf; and ramadas with kid- and dog-friendly water fountains.
About 20 representatives from the Beneful dog food brand were on hand to help with the day's activities, which included a photo booth for dogs and owners, a caricature artist, booths serving hotdogs and pretzels, and the distribution of Beneful backpacks filled with dog treats.
"I love it; it's beautiful," Mary Ambruso said of the park as she sat watching the activities with her Springer spaniel Charlie. Noting that the two have long been regulars at the dog park, Ambruso said, "We meet a lot of nice people and fun dogs here. It always cheers us up."
Angela Pantilione also mentioned the community atmosphere of the dog park. "It's wonderful," she said as she waited with her American bulldog Mumford at the photo booth. "There are nice social areas - not only for the dogs, but for the people too."
Jason Cameron, the DIY Network host who served as the contractor for the project, told the crowd that he was thrilled to be in Prescott to help unveil the park.
After making five trips to Prescott from his New Jersey home over the past several months, Cameron said he was struck by the cooperation of the city and its Recreation Services Department, making for "a true team effort."
"I couldn't be happier," Cameron said later, watching the crowd make use of the park. "The dogs' tails are wagging, people are smiling."
The opening occurred about one year after Beneful announced in December 2013 that Nichols had won the Dream Dog Park renovation with her fire-fighter theme - a tribute to Prescott's 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Construction got under way this fall to redo the previously dirt-surfaced space. Work reportedly continued right up until the start of Wednesday's opening.
"It's been a beehive of activity," Prescott Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes said of the past several days at the dog park. "All the way up to this morning."
Throughout the project, Baynes said, Cameron and Beneful had consulted with him regularly, and he expressed confidence with the end result. "All of the materials are top of the line," he said, noting that the high quality would help with the city's future upkeep.
"I'm really, really happy with the curb appeal," Baynes added. "Willow Creek Road is one of our busiest streets, and this represents the community really well."
Mayor Marlin Kuykendall also referred to the park's value to the community. "I think it's a wonderful thing," he said. "What was once a piece of dirt overgrown with weeds has been transformed" into an community attribute.
Arden Moore, a pet safety and behavior expert, consulted throughout the project to make sure the park would be safe and user-friendly. She was on hand on Wednesday to offer behavior tips to owners and interact with the pets. "Hi babies. Welcome to the hood," she said as owners with two dogs entered the separate small-dog area.
Moore also emphasized the central purpose of the park - honoring the 19 Hotshots who lost their lives in June 2013, fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire.
"Of all of the parks, this one has a special place in my heart," she said. "I am humbled and honored that we can pay tribute in a fun way."
Nichols said Wednesday's opening officially concludes the past year of planning and construction. "I have gotten lots of questions over the past year," she said. "Today, all of those questions were answered in the most positive way."
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