By Nicole Hennessy
Dogs like parks, too. And they don’t require swing sets or jungle gyms – just space to run around and play with or harass other dogs.
There are a few that are accessible to Westshore residents — one in Lakewood and in Avon Lake, and an unofficial dog hangout at Columbia Beach in Bay Village.
But what if there were one in the Metroparks?
Currently in the process of creating a new master plan for the entire park system, that’s one of the questions park leaders are asking residents to answer.
In considering the possibility of a dog-friendly area, Patty Stevens, chief of park planning, says the Metroparks is in the “way, way, way early” stages of gathering information and sifting through the pros and cons.
One of the factors being considered is what the community parks are already providing.
“We’re a metropolitan park district, which means we’re more about conservation than we are active recreation,” Stevens explained. “So, are there ways to do a dog park that are more compatible with our mission of conservation, is what we’re really trying to figure out.”
Giving an example of what might work well, she mentioned seeing other areas throughout the country where off-leash dogs have trails available, allowing the natural environment to remain.
In addition to matters of design, there are other issues to consider as well, such as regulating and maintaining the space and the possibility of having to obtain a permit.
“In all honesty, we’re kind of stretched to the limit already,” Stevens said, referring to the budget.
This means the project would most likely require a partnership with some sort of outside group or volunteers.
In addition to the Metroparks’ primary goal of protecting natural resources, Stevens mentioned a secondary role – to connect people with nature.
“We’re trying to move people toward greater health and wellness,” she explained, “and taking a dog for a walk is a sure way to do that.”
Though this idea has not yet been applied to a list of possible locations, an enclosed area would be ideal, so the dogs would be safe.
So far, there have been several public meetings – three at the end of January and three at the beginning of May – which were attended by about 300 people. From the meetings, over 1,000 comments were generated.
Balance of natural resource protection with recreational needs, connections, events, facility renovation and repair, finances, inner-city opportunities, land acquisition, media and marketing, roads and safety all made it on the list of topics.
In a general category, the following suggestions were made:
—Keep the concept of the Emerald Necklace extending through all aspects of future development.
—Improve public transportation to the Cleveland Metroparks.
—Keep parks more rustic; give people the opportunity to get away from the city and suburban parks.
—Cleveland Metroparks needs to be proactive force in lakefront development and preservation.
—Preserve and remember the mission of the park; it’s not all about recreation.
That last comment corroborates Stevens’ reminder that the first goal of the Metroparks is conservation.
In addition to dog park advocates, she’s seen a lot of mountain bikers, horse enthusiasts and rock climbers come to the meetings, expressing their needs.
“It’s kind of an overall desire for more outdoor recreation, is what we’re hearing,” she said, mentioning water sports, such as kayaking and canoeing.
Community members are encouraged to reach out to Patty Stevens and other Metroparks staff in reference to the possible addition of a dog park, as well as to share other ideas or concerns. Those interested can do so by calling 216-635-3200 or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.