inPRACTICE / DOG PARKS: A Staycation for People & Pets

Port Elliot Dog Park // New South Wales, Australia

Let's face it—off-leash dog parks are a great place for pooches to burn off energy, play and socialize. But they're not the place where you're likely to while away a summer afternoon enjoying the charming ambience.

Port Elliot Dog Park in New South Wales, Australia has turned that image on its head.


Like any tourist destination, this park has an interpretive sign and a guest book. Add to that the main attractions—wood, stone and metal motif, shelters, seats, maturing young trees, grass and a water tank that automatically fills doggie dishes—and you've got a spot that's relaxing, easy on the eye and perfect for canine play. Getting there took years of planning and hard work.

The Friends of Port Elliot Dog Park formed in 2012 and began working with Alexandrina Council from the start. Together they developed the site starting with a fenced 70-by-140-meter paddock approved for the purpose by the council. The park started with a pilot program and hit the ground running, proving that volunteer efforts would match their intentions. Along the way, on-site bikkies (cookies) and beverage events and social media posts engaged the key factor for future success: local dog people.

What gets measured gets results. From the beginning and throughout the development stages, the Friends did traffic studies, collected data on used pickup bags and more. They used this information to obtain grants, donations and local government buy-in.

The Friends ran a series of fundraisers that generated $15,000. They started with pre-Christmas calendars featuring photos of 20 dogs per month sold to 240 of the dog owners who bought more as gifts for their friends. The Friends asked for contributions for new projects. At each stage they secured contributions of materials and labor and posted donation plaques on finished structures.

Park additions included a 17,500-liter tank that collects rain runoff from a shelter roof and gravity feeds dog bowls. When water in the bowls drops below one-third full, a sensor initiates a refill. (Every millimeter of rain runoff produces 70 liters of water. The average amount of annual precipitation at Port Elliot is 923 mm.)

High school students constructed a natural timber bridge providing a finished look to a path over two culverts. The Friends supplied stones, and council paid a stone mason to do the stone work. Volunteers built a second shelter and the council later installed irrigation for grass and the trees.


With consistent success came the opportunity for a "big ask." The Friends got council approval for a dog-waste composting program to divert the waste from the local landfill. The group received a council grant for this project on the first try. Initial funding covered bin painting and modification, scales and education materials.

Partnering with a pet researcher from the University of South Australia, the team developed a 12-week trial at the park and developed an online survey that received responses from 2,000 dog owners. That outreach also educated recipients about compostable bags and home composting.

"We even weighed the dog waste collected during the project," said project coordinator Ruth Miller. "In our trial at just one dog park, we learned that we can divert at least 31,000 plastic bags and five tons of dog poop each year via just one green waste bin," said Miller. "There was so little data. We needed to see if it could be done, if people would cooperate."

The Friends also conducted a trial for a newly invented collection bin specifically designed for composting dog waste in public areas. The unit reduced comingled trash to just 1% of the total compostables.

Motivated by volunteers' efforts, Alexandrina Council installed compostable dog bags in all their dog waste bag dispensers, and the project funded signs and dedicated bins coordinated in lime green colors. The Friends worked closely with Fleurieu Regional Waste Authority from the beginning. The Authority, funded by four councils (Kangaroo Island, Yankalilla, Victor Harbor and Alexandrina) covers the cost of weekly dog waste pickup by the same truck that collects organic waste from residential green bins.

So thanks to the Friends, Alexandrina Council and the Regional Waste Authority, Port Elliot Dog Park is not only delightfully visitor-friendly but also clean and green! RM



Enviro Pet Waste Network:



Ruth Miller is coordinator of the Port Elliot Dog Waste Project and an advisory board member of the Enviro Pet Waste Network (EPWN), a nonprofit connecting people around the world to share information on eco-friendly programs to manage pet waste. Rose Seemann is an advisory board member of EPWN and author of "The Pet Poo Handbook: How to Recycle and Compost Pet Waste."