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

Prairie Pastures Dog Park
Clinton, Iowa

A former petting zoo that sat dormant for years and withered into an oversized, shoulder-height weed-infested parcel, the Prairie Pastures Dog Park in Clinton, Iowa, opened in July 2007 to eye-opening acclaim.

Enclosed by a 10-foot fence, the six-acre park includes a five-acre large dog area as well as a one-acre small dog yard that features an agility training area. A double-gated entry ensures safe entry and exit. Broken water pumps have been restored to working order, while garden benches scattered around the park site, often under shade trees, provide seating. The former monkey cage received a paint job, and molded swimming pools allow dogs to enjoy the water if they wish to avoid the park's swimming pond. Park planners also elected to maintain as much of the park's natural look as possible, including vines and trees that blanket the property in earthly wonder.

"No tax dollars or city money—just a lot of blood, sweat and tears," said Prairie Pastures' spokesperson Pam Wisor, who credits the energy and vision of park advocate Judy May for turning Prairie Pastures from dream to reality.

In just three years, the park has tripled its membership, which includes visitors to the Mississippi River town. The park leadership's creativity extends to marketing as well, with one-year gift certificates offered during the holiday season to help maintain the facility's operating budget.

Above and Beyond: Since its 2007 opening, Prairie Pastures has added additional land, highlighted by a senior/special needs area that sits adjacent to the park's swimming pond. Before opening that distinctive area, park leaders researched other dog parks throughout the United States, noting that a senior/special needs area would not only be unique but, more importantly, useful to dogs and handlers who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the dog park experience.

Coming Soon: "We've only been open a little over three years and are still a work-in-progress, but we keep at it. Our ideas come more quickly than our labor and finances can keep up," Wisor confessed.

Next spring, Prairie Pastures hopes to complete "The Big Dig." The former bird aviary space will be transformed into a mulch-filled area that invites dogs to sniff and dig. Meanwhile, volunteers will soon clean the swimming pond, a perpetual work in progress according to Wisor, and install a waterfall feature to keep it aerated.

Wish list items include a hard-surface parking lot to replace the current mulch-covered lot. Coupled with handicap parking spaces and double-gated dog park entry, the senior/special needs area would then truly become handicap accessible for handlers as well as dogs.