Urban Dog Parks in Montgomery County, MD
What exactly is a dog park? NRPA defines this type of facility as “a contained public area where dog owners may allow their dogs to run off-leash.” Also known as a “bark park” or “off-leash exercise area,” dog parks provide a space for dogs to get off-leash exercise and socialize with other dogs and people. These fenced-in spaces are typically an acre in size but can be larger or smaller, depending on land availability and the surrounding context. Dog parks usually include a double-gate entry system, water spigot, trash cans and bags for picking up poop, but can vary widely in their style and design. What does not vary, however, is the increasing number of requests for these types of spaces, particularly in areas where residents do not have yards and off-leash areas in nearby parks.
New friends are made at Cabin John Dog Park
New friends are made at Cabin John Dog Park
A Growing Demand for Dog Parks
The demand for dog parks, particularly in urban areas, is growing. Here in Montgomery County, Maryland we estimate there are approximately 200,000 dogs in the county. This is not surprising when you consider the myriad benefits of owning a pet.
Reports by the National Institutes of Health – Office of Disease Prevention and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) have found:
- Owning a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, provide a sense of care-giver responsibility, and even increase resistance to allergies.
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which helps regulate mood and reduces anxiety and depression.
- As a public gathering place, a dog park often facilitates social interaction that might not otherwise occur. People naturally find it easier to talk to each other with dogs as the initial focus.
- Dog parks are a shared public space where people can form community-bonds over the common interest in their pets which is similar to how playgrounds are a setting where new parents might make life-long friends.
Whether it is families, singles, young professionals, or empty-nesters living in urban and urbanizing areas, people with dogs are looking for a place to stretch their collective legs near home. In visiting dog parks in and around our county, we have heard first-hand stories about friendships and new romances sparked by a chance meeting at a dog park. One person even told us she didn’t know what she would have done without the support of her dog park friends after her husband passed away.
The Humane Society of the United States reports 40 percent of households in the United States own at least one dog and there are currently more households with dogs than children (US Census). Studies by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence found that dog parks are one of the fastest-growing segments of city parks.
Future Dog Parks in Montgomery County, MD
Montgomery Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) currently operates five dog parks, mostly located in lower density residential areas that require dog owners to drive to and from them. As the County’s urban areas continue to grow, more and more residents are requesting smaller, more convenient walk-to facilities.
We know five dog parks are not enough; and after evaluating this situation in our current Strategic Plan and Park Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan, we are now focusing on walk-to urban dog parks as one of our highest needs to serve the public in areas of high population.
A larger Site Selection Initiative indicates urban dog parks are top a top priority for areas of high population density where need and demand are greatest. In our search for new urban dog park locations, our staff is evaluating several criteria, seeking existing parkland:
- Located in high density, urban areas.
- Free of environmental constraints (such as wetlands, stream buffers and floodplains, or steep slopes).
- Featuring underutilized areas.
- With access to water and parking.
- Located an adequate distance from homes.
Our park planners have begun working on a pilot urban dog park in Ellsworth Urban Park, Silver Spring, MD. After analysis of all M-NCPPC park sites in the Silver Spring area, we chose this site as the most suitable and quick-to-implement solution to meet the needs of Silver Spring in the immediate future. Residents of the Silver Spring area are encouraged to review the plans online, attend public meetings, and leave their comments via an online comment tool.
The new dog park will include features such as fencing, a double-gate entry system, seating and shade, suitable landscaping, water fountains, dog waste bags and receptacles, signage and lighting, and parking where appropriate. Depending on the site and context, additional new dog parks could range in size from 10,000 square feet to an acre or more. As we conduct this study, we are also researching the types of surface materials used in dog parks across the country, with a special eye to design features that are environmentally and fiscally sustainable, and create a safe and pleasant park experience for both the dogs and their people.
Ultimately, by building more dog parks in urban and urbanizing areas M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks aims to be responsive to the changing landscape of Montgomery County and its residents - whether on two or four legs.
Is there a growing demand for dogs parks in your community? How is your park and recreation department filling the need for dog parks? Any success stories that others might benefit from?
M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks Park and Trail Planning Staff worked together on this blog post.