Last week, Abraham Gonzales drove from the Silver Firs neighborhood to give his pit-bull terrier, Mac, a romp in Snohomish County's newest...

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Last week, Abraham Gonzales drove from the Silver Firs neighborhood to give his pit-bull terrier, Mac, a romp in Snohomish County’s newest off-leash area, a fenced, 3-acre corner of Willis Tucker Park off Cathcart Way.

With leash laws in effect throughout the county and residents increasingly living in tightly clustered housing developments, several cities are considering adding dog parks to give their two- and four-legged residents a place to play together.

“It’s bigger than my backyard, that’s for sure,” said Gonzales. “The dogs have a lot of fun.”

Snohomish County set aside $250,000 to develop four dog parks by 2009 and is exploring such trend-setting features as obstacle courses, field training, and even doggy diving docks.

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Mountlake Terrace plans to open a 1-acre dog park in the spring, and Marysville is considering an off-leash park near Sunnyside Elementary School. Everett has three off-leash areas and is considering a fourth.

In fact, when the Everett Parks Department surveyed residents in 2006 for its 10-year strategic plan, off-leash areas placed 10th out of 30 among amenities residents wanted to add to parks, ahead of both playground equipment and youth-soccer fields.

But not everyone has greeted dog parks with a big, tail-wagging woof.

Residents of the Wilderun West neighborhood in Marysville say the proposed dog park between their houses and Sunnyside Elementary would increase traffic, raise security concerns and cut off their access to the playground and open spaces at the school.

“Although many of us are in favor of a local dog park, the idea of having it right in our backyard is very unsettling,” said Jesse Thompson, president of the Wilderun West Homeowners Association, in an e-mail response about the issue. “In our 77-home community, I have yet to come across a homeowner in favor of this idea.”

County parks leaders say off-leash areas often develop in partnership with dog owners who establish nonprofit groups that raise money to build the parks and help maintain them once they’re running.

The regional model and poster-park for off-leash areas is Marymoor Park in Redmond, visited by an estimated 800,000 dog lovers a year. The park is operated in partnership with a nonprofit, Serve Our Dog Areas, which raises money through membership dues and parking passes and provides volunteers to help maintain the park.

Similar groups have sprung up in Snohomish County to advocate for dog parks here. Snohomish Dog Off-leash Group (Sno-DOG.org) organized last year and now has about 40 members, said Silver Lake resident Gabrielle Flanagan. The group turned out volunteers last summer to help erect 600 feet of fencing at the Willis Tucker off-leash area.

“There aren’t a lot of places were dogs can safely run around,” Flanagan said. “People are really happy to have an area closer than Marymoor.”

Tom Teigen, Snohomish County parks director, said one of the county’s proposed dog parks, the 30-acre Mother Nature’s Window north of Marysville, has the potential to be a nationally recognized off-leash area. He envisions a park with agility and field-training courses, nationally televised dog competitions and revenue to the county from sponsorships, entry fees and other activities.

Teigen said the plans are in keeping with the county parks’ goals to create community partnerships to help cover expenses, engage citizens in parks’ development and maintenance and generate revenue.

And what the Parks Department is willing to do for dogs, Teigen said, it could also do for groups such as bird lovers.

“If an Audubon group wants to create a great birding loop, we can empower them to take ownership. That’s good government,” he said.

The Willis Tucker off-leash area is temporary. The county plans a permanent, 12-acre dog park at a yet-to-be-determined location in the park. But even the temporary, 3-acre site, Teigen said, has been “wildly popular,” with visits by as many as 100 dogs a day from as far away as Edmonds and Bothell.

The Marina Beach dog area on the Edmonds waterfront is one of the oldest of the county’s off-leash parks. On a sunny day at high tide, there isn’t a lot of room for all of the dogs, said Parks Director Brian McIntosh.

But he said the City Council was willing to create the park in 1998 because of a strong group of supporters who pledged to help with day-to-day upkeep.

“It’s an active volunteer base. They do a wonderful job,” McIntosh said.

Everett’s off-leash areas have added dog-friendly features such as doggy drinking bowls and plastic-bag dispensers, said city landscape architect Hal Gausman. He said the challenge for cities is to find areas large enough to give dogs room to run and explore. Smaller areas, he said, can turn muddy with overuse and become vulnerable to erosion.

Given enough space and the right terrain, he said, dog owners love the off-leash areas.

“It gives dogs a chance to be dogs.”

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com