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Late Oakland Woman Inspires Son's Dog Park Dream

Ryan Schwertfeger wants to name the proposed Oakland dog park after his later mother Jill Schwertfeger. She is pictured here with their dog Scooby. Photo Credit: Ryan Schwertfeger
Former Bergen County Freeholder Maura McMahon DeNicola, Ryan Schwertfeger, Oakland Mayor Linda Schwager and Oakland Recreation Commission Chairman Mike Guadagnino gather together at Great Oak Park. Photo Credit: Ryan Schwertfeger

OAKLAND, N.J. – As eighth-graders at Oakland’s Valley Middle School, Ryan Schwertfeger and his classmates were tasked with doing projects to benefit the community.

Some kids picked up litter. Others volunteered at food banks. Schwertfeger's mother suggested he try to get a dog park in town.  

That was eight years ago. And he is still at it.

“Most people with their projects, they did it, they finished it, and that was it,” said Schwertfeger, now a 22-year-old college senior. “For me, I thought, ‘It’s not there yet, so keep going.’”

Years and a handful of proposed locations later, the borough has given Schwertferger the go-ahead to start fundraising.

The proposed dog park is slated for Great Oak Park, a 40-acre tract formerly known as “Pleasureland,” being developed along Ramapo Valley Road.

Other proposed elements of the park include a great lawn, band shell, repaired parking lots and a skate park.

While Schwertfeger is heading the fundraising effort for the dog park, Oakland Recreation Commission Chairman Mike Guadagnino is leading the charge for the other elements. The goal is to use no taxpayer dollars to implement the improvements, Guadagnino said.

Guadagnino said he wants residents to understand that after fundraising is complete, “We still have some hurdles,” like getting architectural designs of how the entire park will look and having them reviewed by borough engineers.

Schwertfeger already has a name in mind for the dog park: the Jill Schwertfeger Memorial Dog Park, in memory of his mother who died from cancer in 2012.

She would bring his family’s rescue dog, Scooby, to the Oakland Public Library so kids could read to him. She also got him certified as a therapy dog, and would take him to the Oakland Care Center, and other places to visit with sick and elderly people “who just need a smile on their face,” he said.

And his mom was the one to plant the dog park idea in his head so many years ago.

“It is something obviously close to my heart,” he said.

To make a tax-deductible contribution, click HERE, then select the link to “Donate to the Dog Park element.” To read Schwertfeger's fundraising letter, see the attachment below.

See Attachment

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