Photo by Matt Stensland
Rex, a boxer belonging to the Chavarria family of Steamboat Springs, lies in the shade Wednesday under a picnic table near the 13th Street bridge.
Steamboat Springs Successful dog park managers think like farmers - farmers who rotate their fields in and out of production to give the soil and grass a rest.
John Birkey told an audience of 80 town and city officials gathered in Steamboat Springs from across Colorado on Wednesday that the trend of creating parks specifically designed to allow dogs to play off leash is growing. And some of the best parks give managers the option of alternating between two grassy fields, keeping one closed at all times.
"Dogs want to mark their territory," he said, and after awhile, the grass needs a break. "Some grass is good, but you don't want the entire park to be grass. The key is rotating your turf areas."
Birkey is a landscape architect with Norris Design in Denver. He has helped design formal dog parks in Douglas County, Castle Rock, Aurora, Lakewood and Henderson, Nev. His speech came during the opening day of the annual convention of the Colorado Municipal League at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. The convention, with 750 participants, continues today with a sold-out noon speech by Gov. Bill Ritter.
The growth of specialized dog parks is almost inevitable, Birkey said. Americans keep more than 53 million dogs as pets, and people who own dogs average 1.7 per household.
The city of Steamboat Springs began a test program in two city parks - Rita Valentine Park and Spring Creek Park - last fall to allow dogs to play off leash during specific hours on limited days each week. Pet owners are asked to fill out paperwork in advance of using the limited dog parks.
Birkey advocates building dog parks into master plans for larger recreational developments. In that way, parking areas can be condensed. Also, parents who bring children to organized sporting contests are able to take their pet to a nearby dog park while a soccer or baseball game is under way. That arrangement can reduce automobile trips.
Andy McRoberts, director of parks and recreation for the city of Evans, said he is in the midst of working on a new dog park in his community. He will use his staff to do most of the construction.
The decision to allow leashed dogs in all Evans city parks and to build an area where they could romp off leash was made after the results of a city survey became known. Previously, dogs had been banned from all city parks. The town received a $45,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to help with construction costs.
McRoberts said his city involved its police department and code enforcement division in the planning process for the dog park from the beginning. He also is consulting with a dog trainer about building an agility course within Evans' dog park.
Birkey said one important element in many successful dog parks is the existence of a users group that sanctions aggressive dogs, sometimes by isolating them in fenced areas within the dog park, called bullpens. It also helps to promote harmony in the dog park if separate areas for small and large dogs are provided. Even the best-behaved members of the larger breeds sometimes drift into aggressive behavior at the site of small dogs, he said.
Effective user groups also use gentle peer pressure to encourage pet owners to pick up after their dogs, Birkey said.
Dogs improve the emotional health of their owners by providing a constant presence in their lives, Birkey observed. And dogs are frequently the icebreakers that encourage conversations among the human visitors to dog parks.
Happy dogs that become socialized through the opportunity to romp off leash at a dog park, he said, better meet those human needs.