Feature Article - March 2016
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Four-Legged-Friendly Parks

Well-Planned Dog Parks Unite the Community, Whether Canine or Human

By Joe Bush

The key is to make the dog owners have ownership in the park, keeping it clean and safe for all.

"The parks department built this park," said Swander. "The irrigation system, the grass planted, trees planted."

It has been a hit, and Swander and his staff have used two annual events to raise money for improvements. The Pooch Party Splash and Stroll is held at another of the city's parks, one with a waterpark. A 1-mile walk with owners and their dogs ends at the waterpark, where dogs splash around like kids. There are booths and dog/owner photos and coupons and an off-leash area. The proceeds from the $25 registration fee plus sponsorships and pet-related vendor fees have raised $100,000, Swander said.

"It's insane," said Swander. "It's a hoot. Everywhere the kids get to play, it's the dogs' for the day."

The money is paying for construction of a pond for the dog park, complete with a launch for throwing and retrieving balls. Swander said because duck hunting is so popular in southern Idaho, there are bird dogs aplenty.

"I anticipate it will be heavily used," Swander said. "Someone with their Chihuahua might not get enjoyment from the pond, but it's unbelievable how many water fowl retrieving dogs there are in this community."

Swander said the other fundraising event is a March food truck gathering in another part of the town, again with all proceeds for the dog park. Though most of the money raised will help build the pond, the events will continue, this time to reach the goal of paying for permanent bathrooms at the park.

The Nampa dog park, like the one in Cincinatti, draws a lot of attention from Nampa's parks and recreation staff, more than a regular park, Swander said. Cleanup is key, he said, and if he could design a park knowing what he knows now, he'd plan fencing that would allow parts of the park to be closed off to let the turf rest.

"We do put a lot of resources into the grounds," Swander said. "Dogs are very, very hard on natural grass. The biggest expense for us has been to fix low areas for drainage problems. We've added French drains and subterranean drainage. That's part of the reason the property was not buildable because of water table being so high there. One of the things we've found is with the dogs raring and tearing on the grass we've had to keep it as dry as possible.

"It's a mixed bag. With southern Idaho's desert climate you have to keep irrigation on it just to keep the grass green, but it's a fine line between enough water to keep the grass green and standing puddles so the dogs don't tear a new mudhole."

The success of the dog park has encouraged plans for another across town. Slightly larger than the first, Swander will suggest that it have the capability to partition areas for care and rest.

"One of the things I thought we did really well is we incorporated walking paths into it," said Swander. "There's quite an extensive walking loop and multiple options around this loop. That's what we see users other than the dogs utilizing. It's crushed asphalt and it gets a ton of use. Very few people sit on the benches, very few people lounge while letting their dogs run around. They're either actively playing with their dog, throwing the frisbee, throwing the ball, or they're walking for exercise themselves.

"Dog parks are for citizens that have dogs. Getting them out and moving, we see as a success. Getting them health improvement, getting them out of the house. We've seen a lot of social interaction with people that may not get out a lot. Some I've talked to say, 'My best friend I met at the dog park and now we make sure we come together so that when we're finished we go get coffee or go get lunch.' Those are successful indications that the dogp ark is an amenity for the citizens and not just for the dogs."

Fetching Dog Parks

What else distinguishes a good dog park? Roseanne Conrad of the National Dog Park Association says safety, supervision, cleanliness, a well-thought-out and posted set of rules, and areas for small dogs and large dogs are all minimum standards for dog parks.

Larger parks offer dedicated areas for large & small dogs, a natural themed play area, and water features.

"Like with anything else, the good ones will grow and get better, the bad ones will fade by the wayside," Conrad said. "The key is to make the dog owners have ownership in the park, keeping it clean and safe for all."

Barnett, of BringFido.com, said an acre surrounded by a chain-link fence four to six feet high with a double-gated entrance is a good start. The double-gated entrance prevents dogs from escaping and allows dogs to meet before being in the same enclosure. There should also be some shade and a sitting area for owners.

"A good park maintains the grounds and provides easy access to water, poop bags and covered receptacles," she added. "Beyond the basics, grass is the preferred turf, and creating separate enclosures for small and large dogs gives more peace of mind to owners. Hurdles, hill climbs, tunnels and jump hoops are all great training equipment options, and sprinklers or pools are popular."