Feature Article - January 2011
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Dog Parks 2.0

Taking America's Dog Parks to the Next Level

By Daniel P. Smith


NOLA City Bark
New Orleans, La.

From Hurricane Katrina's fallout comes one of the nation's most endearing stories: NOLA City Bark, New Orleans' premier dog park that sits on 4.6 acres in historic City Park.

Devastated by Katrina's wrath and New Orleans' fledgling state, the 1,300-acre, historic City Park seemed destined to remain an urban wasteland. Much of the park sat under four feet of water, and damages mounted to well over $40 million. Slowly, however, the expansive park rebounded and welcomed recreation, largely spurred by volunteer efforts and private foundations. In 2007, a group of committed private individuals approached city park leaders, hoping to secure a slice of the park for four-legged friends.

"Most people didn't even know what a dog park was in New Orleans," said NOLA City Bark President Jackie Shreves.

The City of New Orleans provided the dog park's 4.6-acre location, a largely unused parcel even pre-Katrina, and some of the site improvements, while dog park board members raised $440,000 from the community and corporate sponsors. Hiring a landscape architect who specialized in animal habitats and researching best practices at dog parks across the country, NOLA City Bark began to take shape, incorporating historic elements, such as black iron gates, that meshed with the Big Easy's centuries-old character.

Today, three years after the plan's conception, NOLA City Bark stands tall as one of the nation's most celebrated, state-of-the-art dog parks. The site features both small and large dog areas (both with double-gated entry), wading pools, agility equipment and a doggy shower. Portable lawn chairs allow visitors to establish seating wherever they desire, while on-site restrooms and handicap access allow fun to reign for everyone, every time.

Upon opening in March 2010, board members thought they'd be overwhelmed by some 500 permits. Within eight months, however, the board has doled out nearly 3,000 $35 permits to local residents and others who travel to the park from other parts of Louisiana and even Mississippi. Each permit holder carries an electronic security card that allows access into the park and fosters a safe environment for both humans and dogs.

The nonprofit NOLA City Bark agency covers the dog park's maintenance, while also promoting dog education and adoption. On certain days, rescue groups are even allowed to bring in adoption-available dogs.

"The park's become as much about people as dogs," Shreves said. "You have people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds crossing paths who otherwise wouldn't, and that's proven to be a real special element."

Above and Beyond: "The Pit" is a sand-filled pit where dogs can dig and dig some more. A truckload of sand arrives every other month to replenish the supply, while pet-friendly showers help owners clean their dogs after play time.

Wish List: The park's supporters are currently raising funds for the installation of lighting and irrigation.