By Marty Farmer
With construction continuing at Ridgeland Common, local dog lovers are about to lose another pup amenity as the so-called Dog Park Plus will be closing Aug. 4. The permanent dog park at Ridgeland Common has already closed though it will reopen in spring 2014 when construction is complete at the complex.
In the meantime, the park district is working to find a new home for the larger though time limited Dog Park Plus concept which allows dogs more space to roam off-leash within a fenced-in environment.
The current space at Ridgeland Common will close permanently next month due to the installation of synthetic turf. That leaves the park district in the exploratory stages of relocating what has been a four-hour per week window for the dog run. So far finding a useable space has been challenging as multiple locations have been considered and discarded.
"We are sensitive to the fact that our dog parks and Dog Park Plus offer an important component of socialization for some members and their dogs within our community," said Jan Arnold, the executive director of the park district. "We'll continue to work on finding a location that is a good fit for them, as well as the rest of the Oak Park community. Of course, the safety of our residents is of primary importance."
The park board will hold a public meeting July 11 at Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid Ave., for an open discussion of the possibilities. That meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. Members of Friends of Oak Park Dogs have been invited to the meeting as are members of the general public.
At a March 6 meeting to discuss the future location of Dog Park Plus, the southeast corner of Stevenson Park — Lake and Humphrey — was proposed for the new dog run. However, dog owners expressed concern that the proposed space was too small. Other parks under review included Longfellow and Fox, but they ultimately weren't attractive relocation options due to a lack of perimeter fencing.
After the March 6 meeting, the park district turned to John Mac Manus from Altamanu, Inc., a regular park district contractor, to conduct additional due diligence regarding a future location.
Mac Manus and members of FOOPD toured several parks in Oak Park including Maple and Andersen and reassessed the larger sports field areas at Stevenson.
"John led our Dog Park Plan study in 2006," Arnold said. "He has become a dog park expert and done comprehensive studies on every inch of available space within Oak Park. John has been involved since Day 1 and his expertise on knowing the criteria for a new Dog Park Plus location is invaluable."
Regardless of which park is chosen as the new site for Dog Park Plus, all location options will be vetted through a public meeting process to gain input from across the community.
"The park district is known for trying to hear all voices," Arnold said. "As we look at our properties, there will be public comment opportunities for everybody including not only our dog owners, but non-dog owners and people who live by parks being considered. At this point in our relocation search, no site has been determined."
In terms of financing a new Dog Park Plus, the primary costs are fencing and staffing the location (already an incurred cost). Currently, Oak Park has approximately 380 dog park pass holders who pay an annual fee of $45.
"The timing of actually finding a new location has been the most challenging part," Arnold said. "We're eager to find a resolution especially with Dog Park Plus closing on Aug. 4, but there are a lot of factors involved."
Other good news for Oak Park dog owners is the scheduled opening in 2014 of a regional dog park at Miller Meadow (located just north of Cermak Road at First Avenue) by the Cook County Forest Preserve District. The expansive dog grove will allow dog owners the opportunity to exercise their dogs in large, open areas.