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Thomas Stafford Dog Park officially dedicated

News Photo by Julie Riddle Dogs and their humans converge for the official dedication of the Thomas Stafford Dog Park in downtown Alpena on Friday.

ALPENA — Every evening at 5, when she gets off work, Mary Newhouse takes Charlie to the dog park.

The 18-month-old Labrador retriever, still puppy-spirited despite his adult-sized body, is one of the unofficial greeters of the Thomas Stafford Dog Park on the north bank of the Thunder Bay River, just north of the 2nd Avenue bridge.

Charlie has visited the park since it opened for business last August, braving the frigid winter winds and reveling in the spring sunshine. In those months, he’s grown from just a bit of a pup to a happy, bounding, rascal of a dog, Newhouse said.

The crowd joining Charlie at the dog park was bigger than usual Friday evening. About 50 people gathered outside the dog park for the official unveiling of a plaque installed just outside the park’s gates. The plaque bears information about the interesting history of Alpena back to its logging days, when the park’s namesake lived on the very plot of land on which the park now stands. It is the first of two plaques that will be erected.

Alpena Mayor Matt Waligora thanked the crowd for their support of the park, applauding the efforts of the two girls whose determined efforts kickstarted the fundraising that made the park a reality. Though they could not be present for Friday’s ceremony, Abby O’Bryan and Alisha Manning had made a tangible contribution to the city, the mayor said.

“This is an indication of how Alpena grows, and how we get new and better things,” Waligora said, encouraging others to take a dream and make it a reality.

As he spoke, an amiable, large gray dog worked the crowd, pausing for a moment to lift a leg in the general direction of Waligora’s shoe.

Charlie the Lab’s best friend is Grizzly, a fellow King of the Dog Park, according to Grizzly’s owner, Marty Atkinson.

Snout wet from the park’s doggy drinking fountain, Grizzly barked and snarled with false menace as he and Charlie faced off on opposite sides of a bench, woofing at each other under the bench before galloping off together around the park’s wide-open space.

Newhouse and Atkinson didn’t know each other before the dog park. For exercise, Atkinson, who lives in the country, used to take Grizzly for runs alongside his quad, while Newhouse would try to encourage Charlie to run in the back yard.

“But he doesn’t play by himself,” Newhouse said.

That’s why she was so glad when the dog park opened, offering them both a place to run, play, and make friends.

Atkinson, too, comes to the park every day around 5 p.m. In fact, a whole slew of dog owners frequent the park in the evenings, 12 or 15 dogs, most days, Adkinson said.

The dogs in the park mostly get along, after a few sniffs and the occasional growl, Newhouse said. Their human companions, following the dogs’ leads, have formed an amiable community. People of all ages talk comfortably on the park’s benches, striking up conversation easily with newcomers.

Dog people, after all, are dog people, Atkinson said.

“Hi, what’s your dog’s name?” a regular said, spotting a newcomer. With dogs around, there’s always something to talk about, a question to ask, a pup’s head to pat.

“Come on, Mara. Come play with your buddies,” an owner encouraged, letting her teddy-bear-fluff dog loose in the double gate of the fenced-in enclosure before wandering over to greet friends of her own.

After Friday’s ceremony, a large, two-part, dog-shaped sculpture, created by East Coast artist Dale Rogers, was also dedicated, one installment in a new series entitled “Art Vision Alpena.”

Holding his jauntily scarved, little white dog, Molly, financial patron Don Newport spoke to the crowd about the art installment and the value of a public space where dogs and humans can mingle on a summer evening.

The brawny-looking dogs of the sculpture, Newport said had been officially designated as little Molly’s protectors “when she comes to the park to play and poop.”

A dog etiquette workshop will be held at the park from 1 to 4 p.m. today. Attendees are encouraged to bring plastic bags to help keep the park clean.

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