Feature Article - January 2010
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Barking Up the Right Tree

Tips & Trends From Today's Hottest Dog Parks

By Kelli Anderson

Paws for Thought

Making sure that a dog park is well designed and maintained, however, is a first step that is essential to success. Today's most-lauded dog parks are careful to address issues of safety, comfort, aesthetics and amenities. Like most good projects, it starts with good planning.

Ten years ago when Martha Burgess, landscape designer for Judith Heinz Landscape Architects in New York City, completed one of the city's largest dog runs at the Theodore Roosevelt Park in Manhattan, she knew careful planning was essential to solve the existing park's many, many problems.

"When the project began we had to work with the history museum, the Parks Department, seven different community groups and the architects—and we had to appease everyone," Burgess explained about the four-year-long process. "The planning and design process had to be done early and up front. It can't be an afterthought—you can't just slip it in."

Taking an existing city park and revamping its dog run meant addressing issues of erosion from its sloping site, unpleasant smell from years of mismanagement, bothersome noise (barking) for nearby residents and aesthetics to meld the area seamlessly into the larger park space.

Changing the location from a slope to a well-drained, flatter area of the park was an enormous step in the right direction. Susyn Stecchi, founder of DogParks USA and author of So You Want to Build a Dog Park: A Comprehensive Guide for Municipalities and Private Entities says that adequate drainage is essential to prevent the mud pits and bog-like areas that plague so many existing dog parks.

Likewise, having adequate space for dogs to not only run and play, but also to prevent the wear and tear on a natural surface, is important. "Our first park took a real beating on the turf at first," Knorr said. "We look for locations now that allow a bigger area. Our two newer parks are 3 to 4 acres total, and we are able to divide them into two sides to rest half of the property as needed. We've found it extremely important for maintenance."

Other essential elements Stecchi recommends in all dog park designs are shade for both dogs and their owners, water, safe fencing and especially safe gate designs that will keep dogs from getting out as others come in. Providing doggie waste bags, scoopers and adequate seating are just some of the features that make these spaces more user-friendly and clean.

Keeping their dog run clean and low-maintenance was certainly a high priority for the Theodore Roosevelt Park project. Although considered a large dog run by city standards at an estimated 1,500 square feet, it was not large enough to maintain turf. The solution was a carefully chosen gravel surface that would be gentle to paws but easily washed down each night with an automated irrigation and drainage system to keep the area clean and fresh.

But whether it's providing a cleanable surface or providing sufficient space to maintain turf, making sure that there is a way to rid the space of dog waste via receptacles, baggies and scoopers is a must.

And while dogs don't particularly care how their parks may look, owners and the community certainly do. Well-chosen plantings can soften the look of a fenced area around a park's perimeter, trees within the space offer much-needed shade and interest, and whimsical additions like a colorful fire hydrant add an affordable element of fun.

In the case of the Theodore Roosevelt Park, an aesthetic touch also proved to be practical: Climbing ivy along an adjacent apartment building wall not only looks good but absorbs some of the sounds residents feared would be a problem.