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

West Bend Dog Park
West Bend, Wis.

Over a period of 12 years beginning in the mid-1990s, plans for a dog park in West Bend, Wis., had come before the city council three times. And thrice the resolution was rejected.

In 2008, however, a groundswell of support began forming for a dog park in the town of 30,000 in southeastern Wisconsin. A more formal and organized grassroots movement, K9 Friends of West Bend, approached the city council once again and laid out plans for a comprehensive dog park. This time, the council agreed. The city identified underutilized property and, last summer, opened the 10-acre West Bend Dog Park, the city and county's first off-leash dog park.

"It was something our citizens wanted in our community, and it certainly was an amenity lacking," said Melissa Lipska, a landscape architect with the West Bend Park, Recreation, and Forestry Department.

Spotted in a densely wooded area with mature oak and hickory trees as well as prairie spaces, the property features rolling hills and trails for both dog and human exploration. In the rear of the park, a kettle (a glacial land feature) holds large boulders.

"This was not an open field that had no other use or something along the side of a road that could fit no other purpose," Lipska said. "This is an absolutely beautiful piece of property."

The K9 Friends maintain the space, including lawn mowing and litter removal, with an extensive volunteer army, while the city has added an assortment of benches and picnic tables to make the space even cozier for visitors.

Above and Beyond: The park utilizes its compelling natural terrain to its fullest. Of the entire West Bend park's 39 acres, the dog park's 10 acres features the best mature stand of woods with fences and trails carefully planned and constructed so that no quality trees were removed.

"Our best asset to our dog park is not something that we could construct, but something that we were able to contribute to the dog park, and that was naturally beautiful wooded rolling hills and prairie," Lipska said.

Wish List: West Bend is currently researching lighting options, including solar-powered lights, for both security and nighttime access.