Feature Article - March 2015
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Tail-Wagging Fun

Design & Outfit an Effective Dog Park

By David Mumpower

This sort of tactic curtails another potential snag in the planning of a dog park. Potential neighbors who own land in the surrounding area may not warm to the idea of your proposed facility. If they raise complaints with local political officials, you could be fighting an uphill battle to break ground on your park. By selecting barren land nowhere near potential neighbors, you avoid any potential arguments about the property. Best of all, such landfills should be cheap and the officials with whom you interact will be incentivized to do whatever is needed to aid you in your quest. You will be turning a regional blight into an Eden for dog lovers, which will be just as good for the résumés of the officials who could stand in your way as it is for dog owners.

Roseanne Conrad, president of the National Dog Park Association, notes that it's also a good idea to include among your planning committee some people who have influential friends and other resources. She notes that finding an engineer who is willing to work pro bono on the project is useful. This person can operate as a liaison between the dog park developers and the appropriate government officials. Conrad adds that a feasibility study is crucial, because even the most basic survey can unearth potential issues among the citizenry. No one can anticipate every small detail and possible snag, so such due diligence is an imperative.

After the study is completed, the business plan should be developed. From a business perspective, there are multiple ways to operate a dog park. Kelley runs an extremely popular private dog park. Owners pay a fee of $11 per day for the first dog and $1.25 for each additional one to visit the facility. Alternately, frequent guests can pay $250 annually for unlimited visits. They are given a key fob that provides park access via magnetic gate during operating hours, thereby avoiding the lines and paperwork that non-members experience. This style of monetization is better for private owners, because there is always a revenue stream to enable consistent park maintenance and sustained facility growth.

The chief explanation for why dog parks are rising in popularity is because they fill a niche in the country's evolving living arrangements.

If you are considering a government-run dog park, the issues are different. Special Activities Coordinator Mike McMahan of Houston, Texas, oversees several facilities in Harris County Precinct 3 including the world-famous Millie Bush Bark Park. When he targets a new area for dog park development, his primary constraint is that the precinct cannot build anywhere that is directly beside private residential areas.

Several other potential problems must be addressed during the planning phase. Dog parks have grown so popular that they attract a crowd, even in inclement weather. This causes traffic congestion in the immediate surrounding area, something residential owners would not appreciate. Noise pollution is also a concern. Dogs obviously bark a lot, especially when they are excited. Since these facilities are by definition designated play areas for puppies, the noise issues could irritate nearby neighbors.

Finally, park size matters. McMahan said that any potential development in his district must be large enough "that the grounds can still be maintained in the manner that we preserve the vegetation, especially the grass." This matter is important for the short term as well as the long term. The grounds must be properly maintained in case the public land is ever used for a different purpose decades from now. Right now, a lack of turf means muddier animals, and that is the kind of mess that would discourage potential visitors from returning to the dog park.

Keep in mind that sustaining the vegetation is much easier in larger areas. In tighter ranges, dogs tread over the same ground repeatedly, ruining any chance of keeping the turf alive. For this reason, McMahan suggests that you should seek to acquire at least four acres of land to ensure that there is the proper amount of space.

The legal process for purchasing the land can require bureaucratic negotiations even for other government departments. McMahan points out that his department must attain a legal document of authorization for the land from a diverse group of organizations, including the city of Houston, the Harris County Flood Control, or the United States Corp of Engineers, before they can move forward with development plans. For would-be small business owners, several such permits much be attained. The specific needs can vary dramatically by city, county, district or state, each of which may require specific authorizations. During the planning phase, be sure to check with all of the appropriate government officials to ensure a smooth negotiation for the park opening.