Magazine article Parks & Recreation

How to Teach an Old Dog Park New Tricks: Sparking Citizen Interest Is the Key to Continuing a Successful Dogpark

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

How to Teach an Old Dog Park New Tricks: Sparking Citizen Interest Is the Key to Continuing a Successful Dogpark

Article excerpt

The village of Wellington, Fla., neighboring larger Palm Beach, is getting a real pat on the head this summer. The popular Wellington Dog Park is receiving a nose-to-tail renovation, including such doggie amenities as drinking fountains and walking paths throughout the fenced-in play area that will soon double in size.

"It's a very well-used park," says Gary Clough, the village engineer overseeing the renovation. "We talked with the users and they told us that they wanted shade and benches. They came to us and the plan we have is pretty much what they wanted."

Dogpark upgrades aren't an unusual request. Considering that the boom in establishing dogparks took place in the late 1990s, enough time has elapsed for a new generation of dog owners to make demands for their park-wandering pups.

Wellington Dog Park has been pretty typical since it opened in 2002. Clough says that there is a chain-link fence, minimal landscaping with a couple of benches and an unpaved gravel parking lot. Clough describes the early park as nothing more than a "quick stop-gap" to have something in place in order to gauge its success before substantial money was put into it. After the renovations, shade trees will overhang six acres of roaming area, fenced in with vinyl-clad chain-link. The park will have an improved entrance, drainage system and a parking lot.

But one improvement at Wellington indicates an increasingly common request for dogparks. Not only will dogs have a place to socialize, but it will segregate dogs into four areas. An area will be dedicated to small, medium and large dogs, as well as animals in recovery from surgery or injuries. Clough says size segregation is becoming a trend in dogpark design.

Trudy Wakeman, director of recreation in Lake In The Hills, Ill., is making similar changes at the Bark Park Dog Park. But it's out of necessity. An unfortunate incident involving a larger dog--with no history of aggression--that killed a tiny dog weighing less than seven pounds has caused a stir of potential changes. Wakeman says that park officials are considering adding a small-dog area to the park, although there are challenges to doing so.

"We've talked to some small dog owners and some want it and others don't," she says. "Some say that if you have it, there won't be any dogs in the small dog section or just a couple dogs there, with the majority in the other area. So that defeats the purpose of interaction between the dogs."

Another improvement that Wakeman says is essential to calming dogs' emotions is to buffer the entrance gate from the open area of the dogpark. The parking lot is near the entrance to the dogpark, resulting in the opportunity for all the dogs to excitedly greet any newcomer to the park, canine or otherwise.

Renovations like those that Clough and Wakeman are overseeing come at a price. And every community seems to have a different funding scheme for providing open space for off-leash dogs. Wellington is lucky that its local government budgeted for dogpark improvements. But some communities looking for upgrades to their dogpark often have to search for someone to throw them a bone.

Tim White with the Fairfax County Park Authority, located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., provides insight into the typical dogpark partnership. …

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