Bark Park: Our New Dog Park

By on 20 May, 2013 in Fun, Kate and Stephen, Outdoors, Parks, Pets with 8 Comments

It’s been years in the making, this dog park – so long that it’s become a little bit of a running joke in our household. When the city announced in 2011 it was going to go ahead and make a dog park in the larger Shakespeare Festival zone (known as Blount Cultural Park), we thought it would be up and running in no time. What do you really need for a park except a sturdy fence, a bag dispenser, and maybe a hook up to city water utilities? Turns out Montgomery couldn’t just do it small. Various entities spent more than $300,000 on the city’s first (and only) dog park, an attraction that opened two weeks ago to major acclaim. We took some time getting out there (but not as much as the city took in building the park), but when we went the other day, we have to say that we were pretty impressed.

Stuff in the park falls into two categories: things that dogs care about and everything else. Things that dogs care about seem to be well represented: grass, shade (there could be more of this), room to run, mud, water. More on the mud and water later. Things that humans care about include benches, separate spaces for small and big dogs, walking paths, and areas to wash off dirty dogs. All these parts were also present. Then there were the things the city and the park’s founders might care about – the giant over-sized stone gateway, the inexplicable postal box, a fountain, and bricks for donors. The dog seemed not to notice these touches. Mostly she was happy to have such a big field to run in, other dogs to meet and sniff, and shade to relax in after running around.

Montgomery has needed a dog park for a very long time. Other cities have not just one, but many dog parks. They add a lot to a city’s quality of life – folks living in places without yards can take their dogs to run off-leash, dogs can be social with each other and increase their overall friendliness, and the parks themselves can be good for humans to meet and greet each other. They build community. This park is super nice, one of the biggest and most elaborate we’ve ever seen, and it made us proud to live here. Though we are a bit confused by the postal box. Are people really going to do a lot of letter writing and mailing from the park?

It’s not just a nice park – we were impressed that everyone there seemed to know how to behave at a dog park. Nobody was eating (a big dog park no-no) or trying to train a dog or bringing young children into the big dog area. Hopefully this trend will continue as we continue to make the drive out east to the park.

The park’s not without its issues, though. They still don’t seem to have solved the drainage problems that delayed the opening. There’s just one water fountain, which isn’t quite enough (we’ll bring our own bowl next time), and there’s a giant muddy area around the water fountain. The park overall was surprisingly muddy, and we wondered if maybe they were just watering a lot to set the new sod, or if this was something we’d come to expect as we frequent the park. Fortunately, there’s a nice dog washing station so we could get back into the car with clean paws. Potential dog park users may want to bring a towel if the big dog area is going to remain a giant mud romper room.

Montgomery needs more dog parks. Not just this one, which adds to an already beautiful park, but others that attract visitors to greenspace. In Albuquerque, we were impressed to see the city making dog parks out of otherwise unusable strips of land: the area next to a highway, the zone behind baseball fields. Montgomery should do more of this, infilling areas of blight with parks. Also the city shouldn’t feel like the next park has to cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. Mulch does just fine for dogs – there’s no grass necessary for our furry friends to have a good time running around, and although the stone arch looks magnificent, next time a wire gate will do just fine.

Here’s hoping the park is the start of something big for the city — a trend of dog parks in all of the areas of town!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Heather says:

    We went this weekend! I think the mailbox and fire hydrant are for “watering” 😉 Lucy actually liked the fountain at front and drank quite a bit from it on our way out. I appreciated that the park was double gated. The pavilion on the big dog side had a distinct zoo-ish odor that I think may have been possibly manure that they used to fertilize the grass? There was indeed a lot of mud! One of the goldens that was there at the same time as we were left covered in it. There were a few toddlers on Sunday, but the dogs seemed to be on their best manners. I did see a few instances where the owners missed picking up their dog’s waste, but they were off path so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Overall we enjoyed it. I agree that there could be a bit more shade, but I think that they are banking on the idea that there will be as the trees mature a bit.

    • Stephen says:

      Heather, interesting observation about the “zoo smell.” In the case of the downtown urban farm, we heard that the city had sent zoo waste to them for fertilizing, so that may also be the case with the Bark Park.

  2. K2 says:

    I’ve often thought that Cloverdale-Idlewild should make the bottom part of the bottom park into an off-leash dog area. I’m not sure what the cost would be (assuming the low-tech version).

    • Stephen says:

      The neighborhood association blocked a previous proposal to turn that area into a dog park. The neighbors really like the green uninterrupted space that can be used for many things (frisbee, wiffle ball, dog tennis ball, etc.) versus a space that really would only have one function (dogs). There are so many other, better spaces where blight could be replaced with a low-tech dog park, increasing the neighborhood value for everyone. And more wide-open parks like the bottom park would be awesome too.

  3. OC says:

    Stephen: “There are so many other, better spaces where blight could be replaced with a low-tech dog park, increasing the neighborhood value for everyone.”

    Examples?

    • Stephen says:

      If you have trouble finding blighted lots in Montgomery, you should get out more. The city has already demonstrated a serious commitment to buying properties and improving them (see also: Dexter, Air Base Boulevard, etc.). Picking out a spot on, say, West Fairview or even downtown wouldn’t be that hard.

  4. OC says:

    I’m hopeful that Old Cloverdale will soon be adding a small urban garden at the southwest corner of Woodward & Girard. I don’t look for the neighborhood to ever open a dog park.

    I get out plenty; I was just wondering if you knew of any examples.

    • Stephen says:

      I think the point is that a dog park would improve any lot currently over-grown with weeds or that is home to a collapsing building with boarded up windows. A fence and a place to park would be pretty low hurdles to clear. Capitol Heights or Cottage Hill or Mobile Highway or (as I said) West Fairview might be nice. I wouldn’t presume to start naming actual lots without knowing who owned them and what specific circumstances applied to each.

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