If dogs are family – and they are – then two of the happiest words in the English language must be “dog park.”
“My dogs love our dog parks,” said Brent Carlson-Lee of Minneapolis. “Living in the city, I find that dog parks are a must if you have an energetic pup like mine,” he said referring to Camper, a spirited 3-year-old Dane/Lab rescue dog.
“Dog parks are fun for me, too,” he said. “Social interactions are much like at daycare: We talk about the ‘kids.’ And I’m not known by my real name but as ‘Camper’s dad.’ It’s great.”
Claire Welo of Maplewood agreed. “We particularly enjoy Battle Creek Dog Park in Saint Paul, because it allows both the pooches and parents ample room to walk and run, with a great combination of woodland, prairie, and water,” she said.
“The Twin Cities is a magnificent place for us to have fun with our dogs, Harvey and Lupita, because there are so many well-maintained trails, parks, and off-leash areas.”
Dog parks increasing in number, size and usage
Since the first dog park opened in Elm Creek Park Reserve in 1983, dog parks have spread to nearly every corner of the region, and usage has grown every year.
Currently 16 off-leash parks dot the Regional Parks System and even more exist in city parks. Three Rivers Park District has the most off-leash parks – 6 – located across Hennepin, Scott and Carver counties, and ranging in size from 3 to 40 acres. Among the 10 regional parks partners, only Dakota and Washington County do not currently operate dog parks.
Mandy Whiteside of Three Rivers Park District said the off-leash areas are enormously popular. “Use at our dog parks has more than doubled in the past 10 years, while the number of passes we sell also grows every year,” she said.
Weekends are usually the busiest time for visitors, but the parks can be busy almost any time of day. Weekday mornings and early evening are increasingly popular, Whiteside said.
She cautioned that dog parks across the region are managed by different agencies and rules can vary greatly. She advised users to become familiar with the off-leash areas you plan to visit, and always pick up after your pet.
Good for dogs and dog owners alike
Andy Solvedt of Anoka County Parks said visitors bring a certain pride of ownership to area dog parks and are using the parks more than ever before.
“In the past, the winter months had very light use but we’re now seeing that users come to the dog park year around, regardless of weather or day of the week,” he said.
“They have become social networks where users set up ‘play dates’ and develop friendships in addition to getting to experience the park. Parks have become part of the daily routine for many of our guests and we are happy to provide that amenity for them.”
A similar story came from Nate Hurliman, a Scott County Park Service Officer who works for Three Rivers Park District. “People love the opportunity to let their dogs run free in a controlled area and socialize with other dogs,” he said, which helps the dog maintain its mental and physical health.
“More visitors are becoming more regular users, and we’ve seen sustained growth over many years,” he said.
Some off-leash parks are fenced and some are not. Some offer amenities like water (for dogs and humans), shelters and benches. Some even have restrooms (for dog owners).
In a newer development, some off-leash areas also offer separate space for small or frail dogs, allowing for these dogs to run and play with others their same size and ability.
“We expect this resource will only continue to increase in use,” Hurliman said.