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How to build and maintain a dog park: best practices

Dogs play at The Trust for Public Land’s Potso Dog Park in Oregon. Photo Credit: Curtis Lee Farmer.

The Trust for Public Land gets many questions about dog parks from parks agencies, park advocates and the press about dog parks through the year, but especially around the release of our ParkScore Index and City Park Facts in late May. With the recent release of our rankings of the 100 largest cities for public dog parks, we thought we’d offer a compilation of best practices for building, maintaining and operating dog parks. People have many questions about “the right way” to build a dog park and want to bring together the right combination of people and resources to make it possible.  Based on those discussions, as well as some interviews and even some personal experience, we have put together this guide.  It will continue to be revised (we welcome your thoughts at ccpe@tpl.org) and posted on our Park Advocacy resource, Parkology.org.

A – Have a plan.  With so many dog parks in public parks, there are both best practices and lessons learned that both public agencies and park advocates could learn from.  The most important point is: have a plan. You can modify it as you go but being up-front about what you need to do helps everyone understand what is required and keeps the process public and transparent.

A plan should address all of those questions that people will ask as you move through both the approvals process as well as the funding process. It should answer some of the following questions:

  • What kinds of facilities you want to build?
  • Should the dog park or off-leash area be fenced or are you planning for open areas that are open during a certain number of hours during the day?
  • For open areas, are you planning to rotate from seasons to season in a larger park?
  • Are you planning water features, including drinking fountains, splash pads or pools?
  • Are you planning climbing or other agility features?
  • Are you including seating and shade?

There are many options and you should first consult what types of dog parks already exist in your community as well as any standards that have been developed or approved by public agencies. (We will cover this in detail in a bit.)

Public agencies should develop a standard for dog parks with a public input process based on best practices that are generally available widely.  Required elements for dog parks generally include:

  • Complete Fencing around the perimeter of the designated area or natural barriers that prohibit dogs from leaving the area.
  • Double entry gate – A standard feature is a double-entry gate system with a gated waiting area for the dog and human to enter, remove the dog’s leash and then open the gate to the main off-leash area, reversing the process for exiting. This ensures that “unplanned escapes” will be kept to a minimum as well as allowing for leashing and unleashing in a separate area that allows dog owners to manage the transition into and out of the dog park.
  • Separate small and large dog areas. Allow for dogs of different sizes and ages to avoid interacting (and causing possible conflicts) by creating separate areas for differently sized dogs and their humans. Puppies and shy dogs then have the opportunity to interact and get used to the high level of activity that can occur in a dog park.
  • Surfacing plan (including renewal) – There are many surfacing options and the choices depend on weather, drainage and current conditions. That said there are many options ranging from artificial turf to engineered wood fiber to gravel. All have pluses or minuses and local knowledge of what works in other park facilities (such as playgrounds or other high traffic areas) is critical. For example, artificial turf is great, but it requires cleaning and built in irrigation and sanitizing systems are increasingly common. Natural turf is softer but requires a lot more care – including a need a plan for renewal, including temporary closures for regrowth.  Gravel, rock dust or some sort of crusher fines work well but can get stuck in dog paws and can get dusty in drier climates or seasons. Regular mulch or engineered wood fiber is increasingly used in playgrounds, but needs to be replaced often, depending on the usage patterns.
  • Alternative to a fenced gated site are areas that are subject to time restrictions for off-leash use. Prime examples are the Long Meadow in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY or the Boston Common, which has off-leash rotating areas depending on the time of the year. These set out specific areas as well as specific times of day for off-leash usage.
  • Dog waste plan (bag dispensers and trashcans) – a key requirement of any dog park is dealing with dog waste, as well as general trash and recycling. All dog owners should be strongly encouraged to bring their own bags (you never know where a dog will poop!) and is encouraged to “pack it out” to minimize the impact on the dog park as well as the ongoing maintenance and operations for the parks department.
  • A design to encourage movement. We’ve heard over many dog trainers as well as public health officials that a key ingredient in developing good park areas are designs that keep dogs and their people moving in the off-leash area. Many people might think that unclipping your dog’s leash once inside the double gate and plopping oneself down on a bench is all you need to do.   Dogs are pack animals and love to socialize, but also need to be managed by their owners. We all need exercise and having areas for object chasing, agility and other forms of activity mixed with socialization are a key part of a great dog park.

B – Make sure your dog park is open and inviting. Try to make your dog park inviting to everyone, not just dogs and their owners or walkers. As many case studies have shown, having a good working relationship with neighbors is critical to the success of any dog park. While such amenities might be considered frills, it is important to think about what makes your favorite park inviting and welcoming, as many of the same rules apply.

  • Water fountains or features for humans and pups. Having a source of water, especially in warmer climates, is key. Dogs can get easily overheated and we all want everyone to stay hydrated and safe.
  • Seating for humans. Generally, it is a good idea to keep people and their dogs moving, but everyone needs a break. Having seating is good; it can often double as an agility feature.
  • Parking and bike racks. Not everyone can walk their dog to the park; some people need to come via other means.
  • Shade. In general, we need to keep planting trees in our parks and dog parks are no exceptions.  Alternatives can include shade structures that are increasingly found in warmer climates over playgrounds.
  • Signage. It is very important to have park hours, Dog Park rules, opportunities for volunteering, and for joining local the friends of the dog park group clearly posted at park entrances.
  • Visual attractiveness, especially from outside the parks. It is important to be a good neighbor to the rest of the park, the adjacent street or residents and businesses. Improvements such as flower plantings, attractive street fencing, and artwork are always welcome and are another way that the local friends’ group can make a difference in the upkeep of the park.

One of the authors passes his community dog park to and from the subway each day and it’s a lively place with dogs and their people socializing, actively playing with their dogs, engaging with passersby (there’s a set of athletic fields and a very busy hike and bike trail in the immediate vicinity.)

C – Be open and communicative. Be sure to cast a wide net and work with likely as well as unlikely allies as you work to plan, build and run your dog park.

Pro-dog park groups should reach to the city parks department to determine if there are ordinances as well as design standards (including the elements mentioned above) that need to be followed in order to create a dog park. Pro-dog park dog groups should also reach out to current users of the park as well as local community leaders to understand the history of the community and the park, prior and current uses as well as other possible plans or efforts that may be already underway. This identifies issues and concerns that both individuals as well as other groups may have and allows all of the players to engage in a process with their eyes fully opened.

Public parks agencies should seek input from groups that may, at first glance, not seem to be allies.  These can include:

Public Pet enforcement agencies, public animal shelters.  These can be sources of information like runaways/stray dogs, dogs chained in yards, dog bites, the number of dog adoptions, and other issues as well as identifying potential allies and other benefits of building a dog park.  These organizations can provide programming, including adoptions, run with a dog programs, on-site mini health clinics, obedience classes, licensing and vaccinations. (All of these programming efforts can go a long way in addressing some of the issues that often come up in news reports from the popular press, including sick dogs, misbehaving dogs or owner issues.)

Community based dog advocacy groups. These groups are often breed specific or rescue oriented.  Community and other friends’ groups are critical to the success of dog parks. In fact, a number of public park agencies require a friends group to help maintain and manage the park, even raise money to build portions of a dog park as well as fees or permits to maintain or fund improvements. More than any other partner, these mostly volunteer groups assume a strong “ownership” role in the park, helping maintain standards of behavior and cleanliness, keeping “eyes on the park” and managing community and park agency issues on a regular basis.

Non-profits involved in dog well-being – adoption agencies, low-cost spay and neuter clinics, animal shelters, vets in the area, dog affinity groups, agility and obedience trainers, and more.  Similar to the public pet agencies and shelters, these organizations are a great source of programming both at the dog park and off-site and aid in the education of dog owners as help with positive activation of dog parks.

D – Embrace the standards. Many city parks departments have developed standards for dog parks. What is even more important is outreach and communication about what you would like to propose and how you plan to go about it. Even if the standards are set and many dog parks have built in your community, the critical step is outreach. While the expenses associated with community outreach, collaboration with community groups, establishing a coalition to care for and maintain the dog park may seem high, they are essential to a successful dog park. We’ve provided a case study below to show how.

Case Study: RUFF and the DeFillipo playground and dog park in the North End, Boston.

RUFF (Responsible Urbanites for Fido) began in response to increased complaints about dogs and dog owners in the North End neighborhood of Boston. The North End is a close knit and tightly packed neighborhood that has been an Italian-American neighborhood for several generations and prior to that, an Irish Enclave and a Jewish enclave, all in the last 100 years.  RUFF began to organize and help address issues including keeping dogs on leash in parks, volunteer efforts to clean-up parks where dogs and their owners were going, raising funds to pay for mutt mitts and other supplies.

About four years ago, they began looking for public spaces to put in a pilot dog park, working closely with the Boston Parks and Recreation Commission as well as local community groups. Of all of the parks in the neighborhood, they ended up with what they thought was their last choice. It was multiple levels in and around the DeFlippo Playground. The park is historically known as the Gassy, from the days when a giant aboveground gas tank stood in the middle of the neighborhood. But, it was site for a dog park and they saw a great opportunity.

They raised some funds and embarked on a pilot project. They purchased fencing the site and had it installed, complete with gates that had to be manually locked and unlocked daily. To do this, they rotated through volunteers for the first few months. With a little fundraising, they installed automatic gates that unlocked in the morning and locked automatically at closing,

Through the pilot, which lasted several years, RUFF worked to address ongoing issues like excessive barking and dog waste), held gatherings with educational offerings and services (licensing, dog wash, vet check-ups), and continued to work with both neighborhood organizations and the public parks agency. Over time, they raised additional funds and worked out the details that would be required to build a permanent dog park, complete with artificial turf grass, an irrigation to clean and disinfect the turf in season, additional play features, additional safety features, and improvements to the pilot elements, including fencing.

The park unofficially opened in December 2017 and a formal opening is due to take place in spring, 2018. In the meantime, RUFF volunteers continue to do what they have been doing for the past four years: addressing neighborhood issues, daily maintenance and operations (shoveling snow, cleaning steps, and small repairs) and most importantly, enjoying the park.  More info at their FaceBook page.

E. Unique features, cool features, ideas and suggestions.

Off-leash dog parks are not just for playing, walking and running.  Swimming, agility and more are some of the many features being added to public dog parks in cities across the United States. We have highlighted a selection and will be adding to this list on parkology.org (Please contribute yours!)

F. Sample Standards and Policies for Dog Parks

Here are some examples of policies and / or standards that have been created by public agencies for dog parks.

G. Questions, comments?  Write the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land at ccpe@tpl.org.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Dog Park Rankings for the 100 largest U.S. Cities

Dog Park Rankings for the 100 Largest U. S. Cities, 2018

Dogs play at The Trust for Public Land’s Potso Dog Park in Oregon. Photo Credit: Curtis Lee Farmer.

1. Introduction / Executive Summary

Based on annual research undertaken by the Trust for Public Land through our annual City Parks Survey, the Center for City Park Excellence has determined that dog parks, also known as “off-leash dog areas” are among the fastest growing park amenities in the combined parks systems of the 100 largest US cities.[1] There are currently 774 dedicated dog parks in the 100 largest cities, an increase of 38 over last year. Many public park agencies now have ordinances and sets of design standards that govern the creation and ongoing maintenance and operation of dog parks. However, most important, we find that what makes dog parks successful is strong collaboration between the public parks agency, the surrounding community and a local dog advocacy group, primarily volunteers that have a strong ownership stake in the dog park.

2. Current dog park numbers.

2017 saw continued growth in dog parks in the 100 largest U. S. cities, with 774 dog parks in operation. Since 2009, we’ve seen a 40 percent increase in dog parks, when there were 466 dog parks in the largest U. S. cities.

Year,# of Dog Parks, Increase, % change from prior year, Overall increase since 2009

2018                    774        38                                4.9%                   + 308

2017                     736       55                                 7.5%                   + 270

2016                    681       37                                  5.4%                  + 215

2015                    644       26                                  4.0%                  + 178

2009                  466

The complete list of 2018 rankings for dog parks, by city, is posted on our City Park Facts page on ww.tpl.org.

Dog parks are among the fastest growing amenities in the 100 largest U.S. Cities’ park systems and the top cities may be surprising. We calculate rank based on the number of dog parks for every 100,000 residents in a given city. [For information on our work and findings from our annual city parks survey, please check out our annual publication, City Park Facts – http://www.tpl.org/cityparkfacts. The 2018 edition will be published on May 23, 2018.]

[1] – The 100 largest US cities are surveyed annually via the City Park survey, administered by the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land. Results are reported in both City Park Facts and ParkScore, both available at http://www.tpl.org The 100 largest cities contain 64 million residents or about 20 percent of the total US population.

City Park Report Season Begins in one week!

Beginning a week from today (3/23/18) we’ll going to start sharing the latest data on parks – specifically about the 100 largest U. S. cities.  The data comes from the annual city park survey that the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence conducts each fall.  We survey all public park agencies operating in the 100 largest cities – about 300 in all to get a sense of everything from acreage to amenities to spending.  New this year, we’ll surveyed an additional 160 plus parks non-profits in those same 100 cities.

There’s a lot to share and we’ll be doing so over the next few months, leading up to the release of City Park Facts and ParkScore in late May.

To whet your appetite, we have seen an increase in the population of the 100 U. S. cities grow by over 1 million people to 64.7 million from 63.57 million people in 2017.

Questions, comments or suggestions:  You can reach the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land at ccpe@tpl.org.

How big or small are parks in US cities?

republicnow

For our work on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore, we know the median size of a park in the 100 largest US cities is 3.8 acres.  We recently got a request to calculate how parks break down in size amongst the 100 largest cities.  We looked at the data a number of different ways, and how it differs based on city population as well as density.  Here’s what we found.

Overall for the 100 largest US cities (includes all public parkland, regardless of ownership by city, county, state and federal governments)

  • .25 (or less) acre: 12.3%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 16.3%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 11.1%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 17.6%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 6.9%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 7.6%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 6.9%
  • greater than 15 acres: 28.2%

We wondered if there was a difference in these breakdowns for cities with larger populations versus small populations, so we did some additional analysis.

For cities with populations in the 600,000 to 800,000 range (Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Las Vegas, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Washington, DC.), we found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 16.6%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 19.5%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.7%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 16.6%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 6.1%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 6.9%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 5.3%
  • greater than 15 acres: 18.2%

For cities with populations under 250,000 (Arlington (VA), Baton Rouge, Boise, Chesapeake, Fremont, Garland, Glendale, Hialeah, Irving, Norfolk, North Las Vegas, Reno, Richmond, Scottsdale, Winston-Salem), we found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 6%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 14.6%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.7%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 20.1%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 8.6%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 9.2%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 9.1%
  • greater than 15 acres: 21.9%

Finally, we also looked at cities with lower population densities* (10 to 15 persons per acre) and found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 17.2%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 19.5%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.9%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 15.5%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 5.5%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 6.9%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 5.6%
  • greater than 15 acres: 19%

(*-includes Anahiem, Arlington (VA), Baltimore, Buffalo, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Oakland, Seattle.)

Stay tuned for further analysis as we dig into our ParkServe index. (7700 cities, towns and communities rated for 10 minute walk to a park access.)  Below is a screen shot showing results from suburban Boston.

Arlington-map-big

Tulsa, Oklahoma and the case for supporting disc golf in public parks

We’re pleased to publish this guest post by Josh Woods on Disc Golf and Tulsa. Tulsa currently has the most disc golf course per 100,000 according to the Trust for Public Land’s annual City Park Facts. Do you have research on city parks, park amenities or city park trends that you’d like to share, please write us at ccpe@tpl.org.

By Josh Woods

Author bio: Josh Woods is an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University and the creator of Parked: A Disc Golf Think Tank

In August 2005, a young Devan Owens embarked on an unlikely journey. He left his home near Tulsa, Oklahoma and traveled nearly a thousand miles to Flagstaff, Arizona for the Amateur Disc Golf World Championships. Owens was sixteen years old, a precocious lefthanded thrower with a great sidearm and big dreams.

Devan Owens Putt by Frisbeenet

Devan Owens (from frisbeenet)

With only one year of disc golf experience, he won the tournament in his age division and became an amateur world champion. In the next years, Owens dedicated himself to disc golf, developed into a successful touring professional, attracted sponsorships, took on leadership roles in the disc golf community at the local and state levels, and collected 39 tournament wins by spring 2017.

Although this may seem like an obscure sports story, anyone who cares about the future of public parks should take notice. There is an important, symbiotic relationship between disc golfers and public parks. On one hand, disc golfers like Owens depend greatly on the availability of public urban land and the support of parks and recreation departments. On the other hand, city parks benefit from local disc golfers who donate their time, labor and money to the construction and maintenance of public disc golf courses.

In a recent interview, when asked about the origin of his disc golf success, Owens acknowledged the roles of public parks and his disc golf community in Tulsa. “There’s lots going on in the Tulsa disc golf scene,” he said. “We have a couple clubs running tournaments and leagues all year around. You can play organized disc golf almost every day of the week.”

Owens identified the Tulsa Disc Sports Association (TDSA) as the main organizer in the area. He spoke highly of its leaders, credited the TDSA for developing strong relationships with Tulsa city officials, and detailed the TDSA’s large donations of money and labor for the construction and maintenance of area disc golf courses.

“This is going to blow your mind,” he said. “Almost all the disc golf courses in Tulsa were paid for and installed by the TDSA. The association has a long history. Since the 1980s, the generations have come through, running leagues, collecting small fees, organizing fundraisers, setting up work days and trash pickups. The courses are in the ground today because disc golfers of the past gave their time, money and sweat.”

Disc golf appears to be more popular in Tulsa than in any other major city in the country. The Tulsa Disc Golf Facebook group has more than 3,000 members. According to a study based on a random sample of 100 disc golf groups on Facebook, the mean group size is 174 members. Very few disc golf communities in the nation can rival the social media presence of Tulsa disc golf.

According to the 2017 City Park Facts Report, released last month, Tulsa is first in the country in public disc golf courses per capita.[1] As shown in Table 1, the TDSA has outbuilt the vibrant communities in Charlotte, Orlando and Kansas City. Part of this success should be attributed to the availability of public park land. Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, Tulsa ranks twenty-fourth based on the total number of parks, and tenth in park acres per 1,000 residents.

 

Table 1: Top Ten Cities Based on Public Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents[2]

City Population Public Park Spending per Resident (Adjusted) Total Disc Golf Courses Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents
Tulsa  411,880 $60 7 1.7
Durham  257,245 $69 4 1.6
Lexington  312,390 $85 4 1.3
Charlotte  862,069 $43 14 1.3
Orlando  272,010 $119 3 1.1
Fort Wayne  261,136 $102 3 1.1
Cincinnati  304,833 $244 3 1.0
Kansas City  479,367 $128 5 1.0
Anchorage  305,439 $92 3 1.0
Richmond  222,071 $77 2 0.9

While the green space is there, the public funding is not. Tulsa ranks seventy-fourth in spending on public parks, per the 2017 City Park Facts Report. Out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 73 spend more money per resident on public parks than Tulsa. It appears that the TDSA builds disc golf courses “the old-fashioned way … they earn it.” Charlotte, North Carolina also has a notably low level of public funding and a high number of disc courses per 100,000 residents.

Most of Tulsa’s seven public courses have concrete tee pads and appear to be well maintained. Located in Mohawk Park, the Black Hawk, a wooded course with tight, yet reasonable fairways, plenty of distance, and at least three water holes, should be on every disc golfer’s bucket list. There’s a second course, the Red Hawk, within the same complex, making it a desirable destination for disc golfers of all skill levels.

“The Black Hawk is the most challenging course in the area,” Owens said. “It would definitely eat up the beginner, but the Red Hawk has a front nine that’s fairly short and open. One thing I like about this place is the Tulsa Zoo in Mohawk Park. It’s cool to be playing disc golf and hear the monkeys and elephants and gorillas going off.”

Tulsa disc golfers are generous supporters of the broader community. Led by the TDSA, Tulsa’s Ice Bowl, a nationwide disc golf charity event played in the dead of winter, has broken records for attendance, and donated tens of thousands of dollars to the community food back. More than 240 people took part in the 2016 Tulsa Ice Bowl.

PDGA Members

When pressed to identify the secret of Tulsa’s success, Owens said, “You know, the only thing I can think of is the people. When they get involved with the TDSA, they realize they’re part of it. They help put in a disc golf course. They help move a basket, or install a new tee pad, or show up for a long workday, and when they do, they become attached to the course forever … that’s the secret sauce.”

The “secret sauce” of Tulsa disc golf exemplifies the spirit of the public land movement in the United States. The generous volunteerism of disc golf communities across the country has led to new disc golf courses in thousands of public parks across the country. The number of public disc golf courses far exceeds the number of publicly owned ball golf courses. And while the popularity of ball golf continues to decline, disc golf is on the rise.

In the 1980s, there were about twenty-five new disc golf courses built each year; by the 1990s, roughly 100 courses were established annually, and between 2007 and 2010, the annual growth rate reached 200 each year.[3] There are now 5,467 disc golf courses in the U.S., and roughly 90 percent of these courses are in public parks.[4]

Other indicators are showing the same explosive growth trend. As shown in the figure below, over a six-year period, between 2006 and 2012, there was a fixed, year-to-year increase in the number of active members of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) of about eight percent. Then, in 2013, the number of members jumped by 13 percent, followed by a 19 percent increase in 2014, a 25 percent gain in 2015, and a 17 percent uptick in 2016, when the total number of members stood at 35,662 worldwide, and 30,454 in the United States.[5]

[1] The 2017 City Parks Facts Report is published by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. The data in this report are generated through “a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with the Center to submit their data.” The information on disc golf course locations may differ from the PDGA’s figures. The data on disc golf courses by city only include those courses located in public parks within the given municipality, not the metropolitan region. A “public park” refers to publicly owned and operated parks within the city limits.

[2] See the 2017 City Park Facts Report.

[3] Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[4] For the course count, see the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf; for the public course estimate, see Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[5] See the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf.