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Pip wagged her tail and Odin jumped high as the pups played Monday at the new dog park in Midtown Missoula.

A few minutes later, Harley joined the party with a bounce in her step.

The bark park officially opened Friday, and it's a space for dogs to get their wiggles out and play with other canines. But to the delight of residents, the space is building community too.

"I've met people in the neighborhood I've never even seen before," said Patricia Thornton.

"It's such a beautiful view from here, too," said Tim Thornton, looking at the surrounding mountains dusted with snow.

The Thorntons have walked Pip to the park at the corner of South Avenue and South Johnson Street every single day since it opened. Saturday, Pip had two runarounds in the fenced enclosure.

"She just was completely exhausted afterwards," Patricia Thornton said.

In an announcement last week, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) and Missoula Parks and Recreation note the dog park is 0.8 acres, roughly half the size of a soccer field. The dog park is part of a larger city park, and the news release noted the rest of the 4 acres will open in the spring "when the turf will be well established."

Annette Marchesseault, with the MRA, said neighborhood residents called for a dog park last summer in planning sessions for MRL Park, named for Montana Rail Link, which sold the land to the city at below-market price. In the news release, she said they also wanted green space, but a park for pups was among their priorities.

"We are so glad that our contractors made it possible to get the dog park portion of the park finished and open this fall," Marchesseault said in a statement.

On the fourth official day MRL Park was open, the three pooches and their humans showed up within 30 minutes of each other. Zach Winn lives three or four blocks away, and he walked Odin to the park partly because the 18-month-old still needs some socializing.

"I like the location, too. It's really centrally located," Winn said.

As Winn and the Thorntons watched Odin and Pip romp around, Winn observed the duo negotiate terms of play.

"She's a little older than him, a little wiser," Winn said of Pip.

Patricia Thornton wasn't convinced the gap was significant: "A little wiser," she said, with emphasis on the little.

Soon, Harley raced into the park to join the lively group. Stephanie Whitney wants to expose Harley to other pets, and she figured time in the park would offer a few lessons.

"She really has no idea how to play with other dogs. That's why we brought her here. She's more interested in humans half the time," said Whitney, also a neighbor.

The park is ready for dogs, with poop bags, trash cans and space to run. It has benches for people, and for enterprising owners, it offers throw toys, too. 

"It's hard to find the poop in the wood chips. But you can always find a stick," Patricia Thornton said.

The budget for the entire park is $1.7 million, which includes the dog park, according to the MRA. The park is funded through urban renewal money and the 1995 Open Space bond, and Missoula City-County Animal Control is a partner with the park, located on land the city acquired from MRL, according to the MRA. 

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