By VICTORIA HEUER
June 5, 2009
What makes for an ideal dog park? Sure, you want strong fences, shaded areas, drinking water for your dog and for you, good lighting, and parking. But those are just the basics. Almost any old dog park can give you that. Only a select few provide you with a beach, or a swimming pool, or a dinner and dance for you and your dog. These are the features that put U.S. dog parks into “best” territory, with the winner being recognized as "America’s Best Dog Park," an annual voter led survey sponsored by Dog Fancy magazine. (Use PetMD's Finder to locate the best dog parks in your area.)
This year’s winner is the Freedom Bark Park in Lowell, Indiana. Built as a community project, the Freedom Bark Park began as a 5-acre swath of unused land within a former 114-acre wide farm tract that had been designated for parkland. With no other dog friendly parks available for the community, the idea of building a park solely for dog lovers and their dogs quickly drew community-wide support, and in the space of two years, a small band of committed volunteers, along with their supporters, was able to put together a recreational area that is not only fun, but is run on "green" energy.
Freedom Bark Park’s green features include a solar water well, biodegradable waste bags, recycled rubber mulch, and park benches made from oak trees that had been salvaged after severe storms. Amongst the fun activities created especially for visiting canines are concrete culverts covered in wisteria vines, and sand bunker for digging.
With donations from equipment and supply businesses -- the culverts were donated by a local concrete company -- fundraisers to pay for paint and landscaping, and the dogged work of organizers and members of the community, including school children, the non-taxpayer funded park opened in October 2008, quickly becoming a popular fixture of the community of Lowell. The Freedom Bark Park is also known as Mary Hylek Small Dog Park, in deference to the Hylek family, who made a financial contribution in honor of their mother.
The park is located at 17105 Cline Avenue, in Lowell, IN.
Dog Fancy magazine readers have an obvious soft-spot for "green" parks. Last year’s winner was the Jackass Acres K-9 Corral, in New River, AZ, which has been noted for being the "greenest" dog park in the U.S.
Other parks that were given high marks in the 2009 Dog Fancy magazine poll:
Dog Wood Dog Park, Jacksonville, FL. (www.jaxdogs.com) Voted "Best Place to Spend the Day," the Dog Wood Park is a 42-acre play park, with a 25-acre fenced off-leash area. With self-service bathing facilities, a 2-acre swimming pond, agility course, night lighting, obedience training and puppy kindergarten, and a separate playground where children and child-friendly dogs can play together, this dog park is bow-wow for the whole family.
The Howard and Erna Soldan Dog Park, Lansing, MI. (www.lansingdogparks.com) Voted "Best Classes," the Soldan Dog Park is a free admission 17-acre off-leash dog park, offering a large pond, nature trails, and a special enclosed small dog area. Workshops include dog-park safety and etiquette, and classes include nutrition and canine body language.
Shaggy Pines Dog Park, Ada, MI. (www.shaggypines.com) Voted "Best Community Outreach," Shaggy Pines offers 15-acres of leash-free space, self-serve washing facilities, a large pond, a jogging/hiking trail, and a "doggy mountain," for climbing and digging. For humans, they have a sunset deck overlooking the pond, with music and lounge chairs, and a coffee bar.
Among their outreach services, Shaggy Pines connects adoption centers with seekers, runs a kibble pantry for low income families, as well as other services for families in need, such as no cost vaccinations, behavior counseling, vouchers for spaying and neutering, and supplies, all for the goal of keeping dogs with their owners through times of financial hardship. They also have regular community events, obedience classes, and even have their own page on Facebook!
Howlabaloo Dog Park, Edinboro, PA. (www.howlabaloodogpark.com) Voted "Best Pay-Per-Play," the Howlaballoo is 58 acres of doggie heaven. Separated into nine distinct areas, including open play areas with names like The Ree-Raw and the Shindig, and areas for field sports and agility play, the Howlabaloo is undoubtedly the amusement park of dog parks. Along the way, you will find five creeks to romp in, five ponds, trails to explore, rolling hills and wood to meander about, and weather shelters for protection from inclement conditions.