Upcountry dog park may open this summer

With Central Maui’s first off-leash dog park opening two months ago, Upcountry Dog Park Committee members are looking to open their own park as early as August.

“We’ve had meetings with the departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works to finally get this started,” said Liz Suter, committee vice president, in a phone interview on Monday. “If you’ve never been to a dog park, it’s one of the most fun things you can do with your dogs. It’s a great outlet, a great time to come out and socialize, and get some exercise.”

The committee plans to build the 7.5-acre dog park on county-owned property in the Mayor Eddie Tam Complex in August, next to the recycling center behind Kalama Intermediate School. Like the Keopuolani Dog Park, the Upcountry one will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and have separate areas for larger- and smaller-sized dogs.

However, the Makawao park will be much larger than its sister park and could possibly include a forested play area.

“It’s huge,” Suter said of the proposed park that is foreseen as being nearly seven times the size of the Kahului park. “It’s a heavily vegetated area. The volunteer group is going there every day, some with chain saws and pruning trees so the county can remove them.”

Made up of only a handful of volunteers, the committee has spent the past few months removing trash and weeds that fill the area. County crews have worked to remove larger pieces such as Christmas berry trees.

“It’s beautiful,” Suter said of the upper area that has nearly been cleared out. “It’s painstaking work, and we’re hoping it’ll be finished so we can open the gates soon.”

The vision for the park came to Suter more than seven years ago while traveling through California.

“My husband and I have four dogs, and we had moved to Mexico for a few years after living on Maui,” the Haliimaile resident said. “On our way back, we experienced this wonderful dog park in Long Beach and I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a dog park on Maui?’ “

Upon returning to the island, Suter and committee President Pam Shingaki have worked tirelessly to get a dog park within the community.

“It was our vision together to have a park where the dogs can play,” said Suter, who also was active in establishing the Kahului park. She said the process took much longer than expected, because it required a necessary change in the animal control ordinance to allow dogs off-leash within an established dog park.

“We have been fielding questions, particularly from the Upcountry community, for the past six years,” said Sue Kiang, community resource coordinator for the Department of Parks and Recreation. “They’ve been anxiously waiting for a dog park and this will provide a place for their dogs to exercise off-leash.”

In January, Mayor Alan Arakawa called the committee and green-lighted the county’s third dog park. (The first one is in Wailea. It is managed by the Wailea Community Association.)

“He sat us down and said, ‘I’m going to give you that area by Eddie Tam. Make us proud,’ ” Suter said. “It was sort of ironic. I don’t know how it happened after all this time, but we’re happy.”

“He’s a big fan of dog parks,” Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said of Arakawa, who is currently in China. “We got some great use out of the Keopuolani Park, and we know the Upcountry one is something people have been waiting a long time for. Many thanks to the Upcountry community for putting in the blood, sweat and tears to get this dog park ready.”

Budget Director Sandy Baz said that while there isn’t a specific budget line item for the Upcountry dog park, the parks department has funding available in its countywide facilities fund.

Parks officials remained unsure about the cost of the project, he said. Some of the area already is fenced, but officials estimate the project would cost around $50,000, Baz said.

Kiang said work involves fencing, constructing a double-entry gate and providing a drinking water source.

“We really do anticipate it being a draw for dog lovers throughout the island,” she said of the proposed Makawao park. “When we had the opening of the Keopuolani park, we had at least 100 dogs there and that was a much smaller park, so I imagine this will be very well used, for sure.”

The committee will be holding a public information meeting at 1 p.m. Sunday at the site below the recycling center. The meeting will the address issues and concerns of neighbors living nearby, as well as provide more information on the group and how to get involved.

“We’re not looking to make anybody’s life worse,” Suter said. “We just want to answer everybody’s questions, but more importantly we want to get some volunteers.”

For more information, call Suter at 281-5358 or send email to

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* Chris Sugidono can be reached at