Howe Farm: Time to Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

On March 24, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners will hear public comment on a proposed joint use agreement to allow South Kitsap School District students and the community to conduct agricultural activities at Howe Farm county park. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the county administration building, 614 Division St., Port Orchard.

A story on the proposal will run Saturday.

The county has been negotiating with representatives of the district’s agriculture and natural sciences program. More than 350 students are enrolled in the program, which prepares them for career paths in the burgeoning green industry, said Thomas Mosby, director of career and technical education at South Kitsap High School. The high school has a two-acre farm on its premises. Having access to Howe Farm will allow for expansion of the program with the possibility of adding coursework for college credit.

The county is also working on agreements with WSU Kitsap County Extension, which plans to use the farm for public education classes, demonstration gardens and a community pea patch. Kitsap Dog Parks Inc. is a third group that will play a formal role at the 83-acre park, where an off-leash area was opened earlier this year.

The three entities and the county have worked for more than a year on a joint use agreement to accommodate multiple recreational and educational uses at the park. Leaders of the respective groups say they are eager to cooperate with one another. They are also hesitant to stir up past history which – as I understand it, having come to this beat just a little over a year ago – appeared to pit the interests of dog owners against the interests of those who want to wanted to see active agriculture at Howe farm.

Mosby, Arno Bergstom, the director of WSU Kitsap County Extension, and Danny Horovitz of Kitsap Dogs Parks Inc. have all shown a good faith effort to cooperate with one another. Mosby, who like me arrived at the party after the big flap was over, said he is sensitive to past conflicts over the fate of Howe Farm.
“As a district, we wanted to work to try to quell some of those anxieties and bring us all together to the table to work toward our goals,” Mosby said.

But, at least in some quarters, anxiety remains extant.

Scott Hall worked on the original Howe Farm stewardship committee before it disbanded. Hall is passionate about preserving farm land in Kitsap County. It’s his opinion that the district and WSU are getting shortchanged because the dog park is located on prime agricultural land. Hall, who now serves on the district’s agricultural advisory board, wants the county to conduct a “formal review” of land use at Howe Farm before the district and WSU sign on the dotted line.

Mosby says Hall is entitled to his opinion but does not speak for the district.

Today I spoke with Don Martin, who has served on the county’s Parks Advisory Board for the past three years and who was an interested observer during the height of the controversy over dogs at Howe Farm. In his personal opinion, it would be a mistake to dedicate Howe farm, or any other county park for that matter, exclusively to one use or another. “All of our parks are multi-use,” said Martin. “They were purchased as multi-use and we’ve got to maintain them as multi-use.” That, said Martin (in his opinion), will require building on the cooperative foundation that has been laid by the various entities interested in Howe Farm. “We’ve got everybody working together right now, we shouldn’t go backwards.”

14 thoughts on “Howe Farm: Time to Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

  1. I was on the Parks Advisory board many years ago and if I rememeber correctly we identified Howe farm as a agriculture resource to be used by school, colleges, & clubs to highlight how agriculture and farming was and has been a big part of Kitsap County. No thought was given to installing a dog park. It would have been incompatible with the idea of a farm with various farm animals. I was very disappointed in Commissioner Angel in allowing Howe farm to have a dog park installed on a prime area of the farm. It is even more discourging to see that the original idea has just recently been advocated and work has been done to allow the use of the Howe Farm for agriculture purposes as was originally discussed by the Park Advisory Board many years ago. To put the dog park as a priority and use thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds was wrong. As for Mosby, does he speak for whatever district he is talking about? I live in South Kitsap and am a taxpayer and voter who served on the Parks Advisory Board for many years and I do not feel Mr. Mosby represents me, nor does he speak for me. The idea that all parks were purchased as multi-use is misleading. The Parks boards have looked at parks with the ideas of having more than one use in a facility but even we recognized that some things were not compatible and separtions needed to be made between some uses and users. I can not change the poor decisions made in the past few years, I can vote and support those I think actually represent me in the County. Just my opinion, but then my vote, my support, and my money will go to where and who I think can make a difference.

  2. Roger,

    Thomas Mosby is the Director of vocational and technical education in South Kitsap School District. He has been working very hard to assist the agricultural program of SKHS in obtaining a win-win space use of Howe Farm.

    Kathryn Simpson

  3. I just want to clear the air regarding why I have been so persistent in speaking out regarding the co-location of off-leash use at Howe Farm. As Roger Gay points out in his comment, agriculture and education were to take primacy on this particular property. There are any number of locations where off-leash use could better fit in with other uses, but hardly a site less suitable than Howe Farm. I’m not opposed to “the plan” SKSD and WSU are putting forward. I just don’t want to see the community and taxpayers settle for what I believe is an inferior location for their Active Use and Control Area. One way or another, we the taxpayers are going to have to pay for the “build-out” of the SKSD infrastructure needed on site. Where this is located greatly impacts costs, the educational quality of the venue, on-site logistics, and the overall character and “feel” of the site. That’s why it’s vitally important to consider the best location that exists on the property, not the best location left after establishing where the off-leash area will be. One thing that hasn’t been made very clear to the taxpayers is just how much money had to be spent, and how much physical modification had to be made to the property to accommodate off-leash use at Howe Farm. The money spent went to several “improvements”, none of which did anything to benefit bringing active agriculture back to the site. There is now a huge 110 space parking lot that would not have been there if off-leash use wasn’t an issue. There would have been a much smaller parking lot built to Low Impact Development standards. Instead, the combination of size and poor construction techniques of the parking lot necessitated a huge storm water detention pond nobody wanted at all. This hugely expensive storm water detention pond was not in the plans, and now occupies a large part of what was supposed to be the orchard/berry area. The off-leash area itself occupies 5.5 acres of some of the best soils, and allows pets to roam freely in wetlands and stream tributaries. The fencing to encircle the 5.5 acres of the off-leash area was part of the capitol improvements, although this was supposed to be the “users” responsibility. The public ended up having to pony up the money to keep the dogs out of the rest of the property so that other uses wouldn’t be impacted by them. In total, approximately $328,000 was spent, yet the the things one would have expected didn’t happen. There is no water system, the most essential and first priority for an agriculturally oriented property. The historic barn, which is the visual focal point and in need of attention got no help. The garden areas are still nothing more than a sign that points to their future location. The culverts that have needed replacing to allow access to the forested areas of the property have not been fixed. About a half-mile of trails have been built inside the off-leash area, but not one foot of new trails has been built for the rest of the public. Finally, after the construction, when it’s too late to change the physical circumstances, it becomes very obvious the off-leash area next to the parking lot is now the best location remaining for the school districts infrastructure. This area has everything needed to give the school district a head start. It has good soils, direct access to the parking lot, is near the utilities, and is already fenced. By complete accident the county created the exact physical conditions best suited for the school district, but won’t consider relinquishing any portion of the sacred off-leash area. The only thing I’m asking is that we get our priorities strait. We the public, who paid for the changes to the property can choose who gets first crack at using certain areas on the property. Again as Roger mentions in his comment, agricultural and educational use has legitimacy, while off-leash use was never part of the original plan. Change the sign on the fence from “off-leash area” to “Future home of SKSD Agriculture Science Campus” and the problems associated with co-location issues go away.

  4. Mr. Gay and Mr. Hall speak the truth about the original intentions for the Howe Farm. It’s original value lie in its use as a historic teaching farm. I attended many of the open houses (ice cream socials), etc. where the focus was always on fixing the barn and reclaiming the orchard.

    The group spent three long years discussing the best uses for the farmland purchased as a park by the County. Having an off leash dog park was considered incompatible for many reasons: the proximity of wetlands; the use of land for food production (very incompatible with dog feces); demonstration gardens placed there that families with small children would visit and more.

    Unfortunately, it was another case where people who would feel impacted by a decision didn’t pay enough attention to planned open meetings. Like the Port issue and multiple others, people didn’t pay attention and thus didn’t come to the meetings to voice their say. When word got out that a master plan was complete and ready for confirmation by the County Commissioners at the time, then these people paid attention and cried foul. They said that their needs were never considered. They said that they had previous ownership of the park, having used it as a off leash park (illegally) for years. They formed a group and from my understanding a certain amount of harassment occurred.

    I believe County signs were torn down that stated that the park was not for off leash dogs, that dogs must be leashed; workers bailing the hay were harassed, etc.

    It became a very ugly situation with these people waging a huge protest.

    The County Commissioner buckled. She did not stand by the Stewardship group and their recommendations. The huge park master plan they had worked so carefully on was tossed aside and the time effort that went into it was ignored.

    The Stewardship group felt understandably marginalized and dismissed.

    In the meantime the off leash dog group grew bolder and demanded more. Their demands were in direct conflict with the master plan created over the course of three years. They protested and the County Commissioners continued to buckle under their pressure.

    One of the Stewardship group members was so heartbroken at the thought of the loss of the agricultural land for educational purposes that she approached the SKSD and pleaded with teachers to consider the value of the original intention of Howe Farm serving as a historic teaching farm.

    Peggy Hall is really the motivator for any work that SKSD has done thus far. She deserves the credit. Teacher Jeff Winn listened to her and took the idea to his boss, Dr. Mosby.

    Dr. Mosby hasn’t been with the school district for very long. I believe he came to SKSD three to four years ago, long after this controversy. He saw a good thing when approached with the possibility of having use of the farm/park for educational purposes.

    So, I think Mr. Gay is right. Dr. Mosby does not speak for the citizenry of SK.

    I think that the new goal is just to salvage something out of this park.

    I have a M.S. in horticulture with an emphasis on fruit and vegetable production and a M.Ed. in education and teaching people how to grow food has always been a passion.

    However, after serving on the advisory board for the SKHS, my sense is that this is a losing battle, which is why I resigned as chairperson. Scott Hall still has passion for this fight. I no longer do. I figure that SK lost again. Our leadership failed us, once again. We’re the only community that doesn’t have P-Patches or community gardens in the County. Lucky us. And, we are one of the most needy.

    We have to remember that when our County Commissioner Jan Angel runs for 26th district legislator.

  5. To clarify…

    Mr. Mosby does not represent the “citizenry of South Kitsap” as the Director of Vocational and Technical Education in the South Kitsap School District. He represents the interests of SKSD and the educational needs of our 10,000+ students. That has been his role and he (and his staff) have done an excellent job in working for a win-win solution at Howe Farm.

    I don’t recall him ever saying or implying otherwise.

    The only individuals, in their official capacity at SKSD, who represent “the citizenry of South Kitsap” are elected school board directors.

    Would I, personally, prefer that an “off-leash” area not be included at Howe Farm? Yes. However, I also understand that sometimes the greater good is better served by looking beyond my own personal preferences.

    Mr. Hall’s concerns are legitimate. However, in the interest of SKSD, Mr. Mosby has acted professionally and garnered a win-win scenario. Obviously, not everyone is happy about it. Yet, rarely have I seen everyone happy with any decision in South Kitsap. So, while potentially shocking to some, I respect a win-win scenario, even if it isn’t exactly the way I would have preferred it.

    Thank you, again, to everyone who worked so hard on this!

    Kathryn Simpson
    SKSD School Board Director

  6. It is apparent that Mr. Gay, Mr. Hall, and Ms. Colborn do not define the Howe Farm situation as “win win,” declaring it so and then expounding upon it as if it is an acknowledged fact seems a bit dismissive.

    Calling something “win win” and then veering down a different path (defending Mr. Mosby) from the core issues does not neutralize the citizen’s objections, nor does it address their concerns.

    Regarding Mr. Mosby: I do not infer from the above mentioned posters that his commitment to the school project or his integrity in general is the heart of the discontent, I certainly have great respect for him myself. There are many parts to this complex puzzle, and much history.

  7. SK Resident,

    Actually, I started off defending Mr. Mosby. Then I veered to the “win-win” path. Lets keep things accurate, please. ;=)

    Other than that, you can pick my words apart all your little heart desires. It doesn’t change the fact that we live in a community and that means that one doesn’t always get their own way. If you want to always get your own way, may I suggest investing in the following…

    Kathryn Simpson

  8. This may well be another post sent here that nobody will see…but…

    Kathryn…”…sometimes the greater good is better served by looking beyond my own personal preferences….”

    The ‘greater good’ is certainly NOT a dog park! Are you kidding?!

    Most of the dog owners I know would NEVER turn their dogs loose with strange dogs…including me.

    So… are you saying that PO’s dogs need a space not even your children or seniors have?
    Has anyone counted how many dogs use the space?

    It is outrageous that tax payers were cheated out of using prime crop land and paid $328,000. to boot.

    The Howe Farm was run by tough people…tough in the sense they didn’t give up…they farmed and they fought the elements, poor crops some years…but they made the Howe Farm into what it is today.

    They donated it and no doubt ‘assumed’ their lifetime donation would benefit the citizens.

    Instead, an aggressive private interest took over and a few dog owners run their dogs on a rare, prime crop land…when they shouldn’t be any part of that donated farm.

    It is a travesty and something I will personally never forget.

    That donated property to the county or city may well be used as a benefit to a small private interest, without regard for the intended greater good of the most people.
    In my opinion… Sharon O’Hara

  9. We live in a community that many people volunteered time and effort to plan for the future of this County. To have the ideas and concepts of a working farm put aside to placate the vocal minority of dog park proponents is not what I call a “win-win” situation. It is shoving it down the throat of those who worked hard to save the history of this County for future generations. To have hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on the dog park without regard to the recommended uses by various boards is an insult. I for one will ensure my displeasure is shown at future elections, whether it is for the school district, County, or State.
    Roger Gay
    South Kitsap

  10. Sharon,

    I don’t want the dog park there either. But I want what is best for this community and sometimes that involves compromise.


    Just like you, I don’t like losing on very important issues. However, we do live in a community and the will of the people (often through representative democracy-elected officials) prevails under our system of government.

    I didn’t like the school bond failing last year. However, that doesn’t mean the loss was “shoved down the throat of those who worked hard…” (using your words to make a point). It means that we lost. I didn’t see any “win-win” there, but it was the will of the people.

    In our system of government, we have to learn to accept failure as part of the process. We don’t always get our way, even when what we want is a really good thing.

    Another SK Resident,

    If one lives in a community and believes in the laws we live under, then one must accept not getting their way sometimes. If one can’t live under those rules, then finding a place where one can rule their own world is really the only other choice.

    Personally, I prefer to lose once in awhile to living somewhere else or being a dictatorship. Ask my kids, I’m not a good dictator for more than a day or two.

    Kathryn Simpson

  11. I appreciate the well thought out comments being posted here, and the civility of the discourse, at least thus far. I do want to reiterate one important point. I can still envision some form of “win-win” on this property. Even though my personal preferences would obviously lead to another property being used for the local off-leash area, I have not recently advocated for the complete removal of an off-leash area on this property. Rather, what I am advocating is that we (through our parks advisory board) review the relative land use priorities, and how the money has thus far been spent. Given the recent physical changes to the property, especially as it relates to future infrastructure, utilities and access, it may turn out the area designated as the off-leash area can better serve as all, or a portion of the SKSD Active Use and Control Area. I believe this review should not be discounted simply because the county got ahead of itself and made a big deal about the new off-leash area. I’m simply saying it’s our obligation as a community, and as taxpayers to make the best use of the land and the recently installed infrastructure. That’s the only real disconnect I have with Dr. Mosby. I don’t readily accept the thought that “there’s enough space left for us”, or other statements carefully crafted to avoid the issue of where the COMMUNITIES overall priorities should lie. After we have met the priority land use issues, there may yet be space for an off-leash area in another location on the property. If people aren’t at least willing to consider this, it will be abundantly apparent that either: (a) our priorities are sorely lacking, or (b) our representatives lack the fortitude to rationally address this issue. In either case, the big “loser” will be our collective integrity as a thinking community.

  12. I think that the big picture is being missed here- not everyone wants to be at Howe farm with other people’s dogs. There is a dog park on Bandix that is open to the public, and was created for dogs and their owners. Every area in this county should not be welcome to dogs, on or off leash.Howe farm should be a place where people come first, then dogs, not the other way around!

  13. Interesting discussions so far. No real solutions to be found that would keep all parties happy. Our “democratic” process allows change anywhere along the path of accomplishment of a task. The recommendations of past Parks Boards conflict with present vocal minorities and the elected officials make a decision based on (fill in the blank). So to all the quiet minorities it is time to become vocal. During my tenure on the Park Board we had presentations from baseball, soccer, football, bikes, motorbikes, skateboarders, radio controlled cars and planes, horse enthusiasts, dog walkers, frisbee golf, joggers, and other minority groups who wanted a piece of the Kitsap Parks pie. I have seen how the Parks department can make good things happen with community support. If the vocal dog park enthusiasts can garner over $300,000 of taxpayer dollars to build another offleash dog park in South Kitsap, it is time all the quiet minorities started making their voices heard. Join with your fellow enthusiasts and contact your County Commissioner to demand a share in Howe Farm, Illahee Forest, or Banner Forest. I think I will start demanding that Wicks Lake Park start getting some of the thousands of dollars that must be available to the County so my small part of Kitsap County can be improved beyond the muddy parking lot it now is. I am sure the almost 100 acres the County owns around Wicks Lake can be put to better public use, maybe a off leash water dog park?

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