When we asked you to nominate your community’s best dog park for our annual America’s Best Dog Parks contest, we expected to hear about all the latest drool-worthy features like doggie showers, paddle pools, and agility equipment — and you didn’t disappoint. But the most important feature all the top parks shared was a passionate group of dog lovers committed to giving dogs — and each other — the best possible place to spend time among friends.
The 2009 DOG FANCY America’s Best Dog Park has that kindred community spirit in spades. As park user Lynn V. told us, “This park has been possible only through generous donations of time, money, and equipment — and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”
If it takes a village to raise a child, it can also take one to build a dog park. Just ask the volunteers at DOG FANCY’s top park for 2009 — Freedom Bark Park in Lowell, Ind.
The dog park’s volunteers donated more than 2,700 hours of service to build the park, from farmers who tilled the land and planted grass seed to the high-school art teacher who painted the park’s decorative fire hydrant.
“I would go to the roofing store in our town to buy shingles for our shelters, and the salesmen would offer to come after work to help roof the shelters,” says Roberta T., president of the Freedom Bark Park Committee.
Building the park transformed this small community of 10,000, Roberta says. Before the park, dogs — even leashed — couldn’t step paw in Lowell’s public parks.
“This park was a major change for us, and our community really rallied behind it,” Roberta says.
Rally they did — Freedom Bark Park was built entirely through donations. “We did not use tax money or ask for park money,” Roberta says. “This dog park has truly been a labor of love.”
The three-acre park (soon to add two additional acres) has much to admire, including a well with a solar-powered pump that supplies drinking water, recycled rubber mulch for walkways, weather shelters, tunnel, digging areas, shade trees, and biodegradable poop bags. Guests buy an annual membership ($50 for residents; $60 for nonresidents) and must show proof of vaccinations.
More than 450 people — most of them with dogs in tow — celebrated the park’s October 2008 grand opening.
“Our dogs are truly accepted and loved here now,” Roberta says.
Maureen Kochan, the former editor of DOG FANCY, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Southern California. She can be found most weekends at her dogs’ favorite dog park, Oceanside Dog Park in Oceanside, Calif.