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“Ralph, Meet Sparky!” – Making the Most of Your Dog Park

By Lisa Neiman, City of Boulder Parks & Recreation

It’s early afternoon on a warm, sunny Wednesday. Couples are out for a glimpse of the iconic Flatirons, folks gather to debate the best coffee roasters in town and other groups are sitting on lawn chairs in a nearby grassy area.   But the real “community gathering” is among the 40+ dogs chasing each other, hopping in a kiddie pool, competing for tennis balls and lounging around. Welcome to Boulder, Colorado’s Valmont Dog Park.

Always in search of enhancing our visitor experience, I set out to find out document our doggie-destination journey and to find out what makes a great Dog Park (and what could make ours even better).

One of the City’s four dog parks, Valmont provides 3.25 acres (large dogs: 3 acres, small dogs: .25 acres) of fenced space for off-leash friendly dogs. The amenity features a quick-drying surface for the majority of the park, with an irrigated and gated turf section that we close for re-vegetation when necessary.  A local company turns all dog waste collected at the park into potting soil through the dog waste composting program. Dogs cool off with 3 water hydrants and shade structures.  Dedicated volunteers organize and complete day-to-day park maintenance and monitor the park for well-behaved (and not-so well behaved) dogs and humans. The space is supported through fundraising, volunteerism and a little help from the City Parks & Recreation budget.

Weeds to Wags

Sixteen years ago, this dog park was a weeded, dusty space frequented by folks looking for a place their furry pal could roam a little.  The city fenced an area to make it a temporary dog park in advance of the planning process.  City planners began reaching out to dog park visitors in 2008 with site options for a permanent dog park. The community (including regular dog park visitors and park neighbors) helped to select a final location, surface and amenities such as shade structures, landscaping and an irrigated grass turf section.

Planners originally selected crusher fines (a type of gravel), as a standard surface for the park, but community members rallied for a quick-drying surface that was less expensive than the crusher fines and provided additional funds for shade structures and landscaping.

We love our neighbors!

A core group of five long-time, very involved volunteers work with 10 to 15 other helping hands to complete daily park maintenance, including waste removal, sidewalk sweeping, pulling weeds, visitor education and outreach, filling buckets of water and bringing them to areas of the park away from the water hydrants.

A true sense of ownership and inclusiveness permeates the park. “The more people see someone out here volunteering, the more people want to be part of it,” says Bruce Hancock, volunteer.  Many volunteers are also park neighbors and enjoy seeing and visiting with neighbors at the park. One volunteer bought a nearby condo just to be “close to the action” at Valmont Dog Park.  Two nearby tennis clubs even donate used tennis balls for the dogs to fetch.

Our ‘sniffing around’ found that great Dog Parks have some things in common:

  1. Safe, easily maintained space for a good run with proper fencing (ideal if able to separate large and small dogs);
  2. Good weather-resistant signage that encourages responsible self-management of the site;
  3. Adequate waste receptacles and a good maintenance program;
  4. Some shade and a little seating;
  5. Nearby drinking water with a prohibition on entry with food;
  6. A space for great people (and dog) watching;
  7. Some fun and innovation – a great name, an innovative program, an engaging fundraiser or piece of play or agility equipment;
  8. Support! Opening a dog park is never as difficult as maintaining a great space for your pet going forward. Partnership between dog lovers, the property owner and the community at large with a commitment to maintenance beyond opening is key to success.

Dogs on the rise in urban parks!

Dog ownership (“guardianship” in Boulder) is on the rise. About 70 million households in the U.S. had at least one dog in 2012 and a 2015-2016 survey estimates that number to be 78 million now (that’s about 47% of US households).

America’s cities are creating new dog parks more often than any other type of park, according to a 2015 report by The Trust for Public Land. And we are proud to have Boulder named second among “Americas Most Dog Friendly Cities” by Rover.com in 2015.  As we continue to enhance our own dog parks, we will look to become even more environmentally conscious, look to more sustainable means of providing shade and explore “tags swag” in an effort to make the parks even safer.

Shout out from Boulder to other great dog parks we spotted around the country!

Fort Woof Dog Park, Fort Worth, TX

West Orange Dog Park, Orange County, FL

Washington Square Park Dog Run, New York, NY

Beau’s Dream Dog Park, Lancaster, PA

Marymoor Dog Park (“Doggy Disneyland”), King County, WA

If you’d like to learn more about managing and operating dog parks, join City Parks Alliance’s webinar on August 10!

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