Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Illinois Dog Park Survey

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Illinois Dog Park Survey

Article excerpt

Off leash dog facilities provide an attractive environment where dog owners can exercise their dogs. The social experience also extends to the human side of the equation.

Parks serve multiple purpose: they provide an escape from the realities of everyday life, a chance to unwind and be with nature at its bucolic best. Parks also exist as social gathering places where friends can get together to play a game of touch football or softball, or as place to bring man's best friend, his dog.

This has become more common as dog ownership has exploded in the United States, and is evidenced by the proliferation of dog parks opening across the country in recent years. From San Francisco to Seattle to Minneapolis, park districts are setting aside open space in existing parks or developing stand-alone dog parks where dogs can run off-leash.

The reasons that park districts are looking at developing dog parks are twofold: first and foremost, park districts see dog parks as a way to bring order to an existing park system. In many parks, conflicts between dogs and people are becoming more common every day, with numerous incidents of dogs biting people and dogs scaring them away from the parks. Dogs can also cause other problems that infringe upon peoples' enjoyment of parks, such as dog waste and noise, but dog parks give districts more control over the situation by reducing these potential conflicts and separating dog owners and non-dog owners.

On the other hand, many parks around the country enforce policies that prohibit dogs in parks or permit them only if they are leashed. Because of this, dog owners feel as though they are being squeezed out of the existing parks, and are becoming more vocal in their desire for more land dedicated to off-leash dog use. This is the second reason that several Illinois park districts are developing dog parks.

What impact have the dog parks had on existing park systems and what does this movement mean for the future? To better understand this new trend in park design, Thompson Dyke & Associates in Northbrook, Illinois recently conducted a survey of 139 Illinois park districts to obtain their opinions on dog parks. Survey respondents were divided into three main categories: Park districts that had a dog park, park districts that did not have a dog park, and park districts that were considering developing a dog park.

Of the 70 Illinois park districts that responded to the survey, 10 of them already had dog parks. For the most part, these parks have been enthusiastically received by their communities. According to the park districts, the dog parks have provided a safe, off-leash environment where people can bring their pets. Also, by bringing a positive attribute to their communities, the park districts are reaping the benefits of good public relations.

One of the main issues for developing dog parks is location, which can mean the difference between success or failure. Many existing dog parks in Illinois are either sub-areas of larger nature preserves or separate, standalone dog parks. Most Illinois park districts have incorporated dog parks into their existing park systems by setting aside a separate section of their parks for off-leash dog use. While dogs are not allowed in one area of the park, in another section dogs are allowed on a leash and in another section dogs are allowed off-leash. This has led to confusion over park rules, as different rules apply to each section of the park.

Such is the case at a dog park in Hinsdale, Illinois, where there are no physical boundaries to separate the dog park from the rest of the park. This has resulted in some user conflicts, where people leave the off-leash dog areas and go into areas where dogs must be on leash. Although the dog park does have fencing, this has not solved the problem. According to the park district, the community response to the dog park has been generally negative because of the various user conflicts. …

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