Above: Hal Lovett and John Behnke enjoy one of the newly installed benches.
Hal Lovett has lived in the Sea Isle Park neighborhood for most of his life and wouldn’t trade it for any other area of Memphis. He loves it almost as much as he loves his dogs, Baxter and Sam, and of course his beautiful wife, Kimmie.
In this close-knit community there stood an eye sore, a vacant baseball field, and Hal had big dreams, one that would bring people in the community even that much closer together.
“This field had sat empty for about 12-15 years and was a perfect spot for a neighborhood dog park,” said Hal, who has since been dubbed the Mayor of Sea Isle Dog Park. “Why not create a Rainbow Bridge for Living Dogs where they can play, make friends and bring neighbors together?”
So, Hal set out on a mission. He first approached the Sea Isle Park Neighborhood Association, who gave him the thumbs up. Together, Hal and association president John Behnke, went before the City Council to seek a permit. It was unanimous. The Council said if you can raise the funds, go for it.
“It took two years from the time we began until we opened the gates in September 2018,” said Hal. “We raised $59,000 in private donations, which included sponsorships from Memphis-owned and based Hollywood Feed, and others in the private sector. Hollywood Feed retains the naming rights to the Dog Park.”
Hal, along with a team of volunteers, keep the ideas flowing and the park in mint condition. They spread seed and fertilizer, lay sod, and raise funds. The city supplies the poop bags and mows the lawn. In the fall of 2019, in a fundraiser for water fountains, the city and county matched dollar for dollar every private donation from neighbors and other members of the community.
“It’s always a work in progress,” says Hal as he ushered me to a newly installed cement pad with water fountains for dogs and their parents. As we sat on one of the currently four benches looking out around the 2.5 acres, you’d never imagined it was once an abandoned ball field. There are berms for the dogs to jump over, three poopbag and disposal stations, seven new maple cypress trees and the newly installed French drains to eliminate standing water and mud.
“It was Hal’s idea to build the berms,” said John. “The dogs have a blast bounding over the hills. Whenever we have a new idea, we go before the Park Commission for approval, and because they have such great confidence in our association and the dedicated volunteers, they approve and let us take the lead.”
“Penny and I come here several times a week and have made lots of friends,” said Penny’s mom.
For those reluctant to bring their pups around a large crowd, take it from Hal. “The dogs line up at the gate eager to get in on the fun. Once they are in the park and off their leashes, they learn how to get along,” he said. “They just work it out right away.”
“When I moved into the area, I knew it was a perfect place for a dog park,” said one resident. “I’m glad you made the vision happen.”
Sea Isle Park Dog Park is the only neighborhood dog park in Memphis. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, if you have a great idea and it benefits people, you can make it happen.”