Feature Article - March 2017
Find a printable version here

Parks Gone to the Dogs

Planning & Programming a Park for Pooches

By Dave Ramont

Even the staunchest homebodies occasionally like to get out and socialize—visit the local coffeehouse or watering hole, bump into old acquaintances or just simply be around other people. Well, your dog feels the same way; they would love to get out, see some old pals and have a sniff around. Lucky for Rover, there's probably an off-leash dog park nearby, as they're now the fastest growing type of park—expanding by 89 percent since 2007. Dog ownership is growing across all demographics, with well over 70 million dogs in the United States. So let's see how the experts weigh in when it comes to designing, opening and maintaining a successful dog park.

What's On Site?

Susyn Stecchi, founder of DogParks USA, advises and assists municipalities and private entities in developing dog parks. She explained that "Site selection is the number one make-or-break success factor for a dog park," with most consulting requests pertaining to site rating and selection.

John Sarver, who works in design and development for an Indianapolis-based dog park products and design company, said that other initial considerations when developing a dog park include public facilities such as bathrooms, water supply and drain lines, lighting, sun and shade options, ease of access, and parking. "Traffic and parking need to be considered when planning the flow of people and pets coming to the park and getting out of their cars safely," he said. He also feels it's important to provide some open, off-leash running space for dogs to chase balls and Frisbees, adding that benches provide a place for two-legged visitors to relax while their dog gets some off-leash time in.

Mimi Marler, marketing manager for a manufacturer of site and dog park furnishings based in Red Bud, Ill., and Ines Palacios, director of recreation for the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based parent company, which operates a complete family of brands with the aim of advancing play through research, education and partnerships, agree that it's important to keep the dog owners' comfort in mind, and providing shade and seating areas will enhance their experience and keep them coming back.

Dog ownership is growing across all demographics, with well over 70 million dogs in the United States.

Another consideration they strongly stress is having adequate drainage. "If you're in an area where it rains a lot, your park will be really muddy," they explained. "Leveling the area so that it doesn't have pockets is extremely important." Drainage is also critical if you plan on having a dog wash station or other water features.

They also point out that a common myth is that dog parks need to encompass a large area. "With appropriate design, a small space can go a long way and effectively serve as a perfectly good dog park."

All Around & Under Foot

Next up is choosing proper fencing and surfacing. Nora VandenBerghe, sales and marketing manager for an Everett, Wash.-based designer and manufacturer of dog-friendly products, said that standard fencing is anywhere from four to six feet in height, with separate double-gated entrance and exits for added security. And, ideally, no 90-degree angles where dogs could possibly get cornered.

"For surfacing, we always recommend grass if maintenance is feasible. If not, synthetic dog park turf—which has anti-microbial materials in both the grass and backing—is a popular solution, as is Woof Fiber, an engineered wood fiber," VandenBerghe said.

Sarver added that the surface where dogs play is of utmost importance, and if it's artificial turf or natural sod, "it requires a water and irrigation system so the surface can stay healthy."

Wood chips made up the original surface at Schuylkill River Park Dog Run in Philadelphia, but their use led to a muddy mess, as well as to the growth of different fungi—including mushrooms—that dogs might eat. Complaints from users led the Parks Department to apply K9 Grass, a turf constructed from soy materials and nylon designed specifically for dogs. The turf addresses a number of concerns regarding other surface materials, including the dust and paw stress from quarry fines and decomposed granite, the flea and pooling problems from pebbles, the mud and fungal problems from mulch and woodchips, and the difficulty growing natural grass in a heavy-use urban park. Staff found that K9 Grass drains well, is durable, easy to clean, cooler than asphalt or cement, and is smooth on dogs' paws.