By JEANNE BOND-ESSER

I read Lyndon Zaitz’s’ editorial, “Welcome to Keizer” (Keizertimes, July 8) the evening we returned from a dog event in Abbotsford, B.C.

It stated, in part, “Aside from the various events and festivals here in town, there are very few reasons for tourists to make Keizer their destination. We can offer a dog park but it is doubtful that an interstate traveler will drive five miles out of their way just to walk their dog when it can just as easily be done at a rest stop. And of course there is the fact that travelers along the freeway have no way to know the dog park is there. The dog park is a lovely amenity for local residents, but not so much as a tourist draw.”

It got me thinking that while the dog park is not a tourist draw now, it doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way.

“No way to know the dog park is here.” True enough now.  But on our way back from British Columbia, we noticed an “official” blue highway tourism sign along I-5 in Washington: Off-leash dog park. Why can’t there be similar ones at the Keizer exits?

“Doubtful that an Interstate traveler will drive five miles out of their way.” Ah, Lyndon Zaitz, you obviously haven’t ridden hundreds of miles with a working retriever used to running! We know where the fenced off-leash dog parks are from Astoria, Oregon to Laramie, Wyoming to Parker, Arizona, and plan our routes accordingly. Believe me, a brief walk on a leash at a rest stop or campsite doesn’t do the trick after a week or two in an RV with an active dog!

In addition, for a stranger in town, there is a social dynamic at a dog park that is hard to find anywhere else. Over the past decades we have stopped at hundreds of little towns—mostly at the outskirts or interchanges—where our only contact with locals was with the fellow pumping gas. Or, in other states, with no one at all since you insert your credit card and pump your own. But not at towns with dog parks. For instance, last fall we were heading for Greeley, Colorado with no intention of stopping at Laramie. We stopped at the visitor center on the freeway for a “leashed stop” and found out about an off-leash fenced dog park nearby. There we were greeted warmly by locals, got a tip on the nearby RV facility that serves homemade BBQ, learned about the territorial prison museum, etc. We stayed an extra day and arranged our schedule to stay there on the way back home. While we were there, we visited the museum, bought gas and a few groceries (and homemade BBQ!), made a stop at the local vet, and found a gift shop I couldn’t resist.

How many travelers pass by the Keizer exit with a dog? A lot! According to publisher Chuck Woodbury, the surveys done by RVtravel.com show that about half of RVers travel with dogs. Add to that the dozens of AKC and UKC dog events held along the I-5 corridor from spring through fall in Oregon and Washington, and you have a large market of travelers and the potential to pull them off the freeway and right through the River Road business district. And anyone who has been to the Keizer Rapids Dog Park knows well the warm welcome the “regulars” will give any visitors to our friendly town.

So, it seems like it starts with a sign on the freeway. Maybe the Chamber would know how to start the ball rolling?

Jeanne Bond-Esser lives in Keizer.