Our canine companions are getting a new leash on life and a provisional license to roam free in select spots thanks to a community effort led by Bend Parks and Recreation District and local animal advocates.
May 30 saw the official coordinated opening of seven dog “off-leash” areas (OLA’s) in local parks; the culmination of over two years planning in response to a call from Bend’s pet-owning population for more play options with their best friends.
The locations include:
• Big Sky
21690 Neff Road
• Riverbend Beach
799 SW Columbia St.
• Ponderosa Community Park
225 SE 15th St.
• Pine Nursery Community Park
NE Yeoman Rd.
• Hollinshead Community Park
1235 NE Jones Rd.
• Overturf Butte Reservoir
Skyliner Summit Loop
• Awbrey Resevoir
NW 10th and Trenton
The grand opening events featured dog trainer demos and treats (for pets and people) at the seven sites, ranging in size from the compact Old Mill Dog Park on riverfront land donated by the Smith family alongside the new BPRD offices on Bend’s Westside, to the expansive 18-acre, completely fenced, designated OLA within the Pine Nursery Park.
“This all started from the results of a scientifically-based survey we issued in 2006 to find out what the public wanted from us,” said BPRD Marketing Manager Andie Lindgren.
“These surveys educate our planning and there were a number of ‘wants’ expressed, but the highest unmet need we discovered was for opportunities for off-leash play with people’s dogs.
“This was a red flag to us that the population of Bend had grown so quickly that the days of it being easy to recreate freely with your pet were over.”
The next step for BPRD was to stage a series of public meetings to gauge further community feedback; with the resultant response including that off-leash areas should be spread evenly throughout the district’s parks to maximize accessibility for all geographic sectors of the population.
Big Sky was previously Bend’s only dog park, and it was warmly received as a great place for dogs to run and socialize. But the greater dog-owning populace reported it was not very convenient for many Bendites, and being the only city park with legal access the consequent heavy use meant the grass was quickly torn up.
Also high on the community’s comment list was the wish for a mix of facilities, including those with water access and the opportunity for running on trails with dogs.
As input was taken on board, ideas on preferred sites were exchanged and refined during a series of follow-up meetings and surveys, with a final compromise reached, resulting in a draft map of selected areas being issued and subsequently approved.
As the process progressed, BPRD also welcomed the involvement of DogPAC – an organization founded by OSU-Cascades Associate Professor and tourism and outdoor recreation specialist Kreg Lindberg, “dedicated to keeping central Oregon dog-friendly and promoting off-leash opportunities in city parks and on forest trails”.
“The DogPAC group was very helpful,” said Lindgren. “They were at every meeting; they had volunteers involved in all aspects such as helping with the clean-up of designated sites, and they created their own brochure on the upcoming dog parks to help address inquiries.
“They have done a great job of organizing themselves, including compiling a comprehensive email database to get the message out and providing an extremely informative website.
“They are a great example of what citizen groups can do to effect change – they knew what they wanted and they knew how to go about it.”
She added that all sides first had to understand each other from all perspectives, including acknowledgement of the need to cater to non dog-owners.
Of the seven sites now in effect as OLA’s, five are already under BPRD control, while two – Overturf Butte Reservoir and Awbrey Reservoir – required a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the City to be sanctioned.
Given that dogs are required by City ordinance to be on leash in any public area in Bend except in designated OLA’s, Lindgren said the expanded opportunities were also welcomed by the local police department.
“The City of Bend Police are happy to see these OLA’s in place – they would prefer not to have to give tickets for unauthorized off-leash activity, and can now direct people to a number of legal locations.
“We and the general population recognize that recreation in any form is a good thing, as well as offering increased social interaction options for pets and owners.
“Central Oregon is a haven for active people and dogs and expanded opportunities to exercise with your dog, as well as to help build community by meeting new people at the park areas is a win-win situation.”
Prior to the dog parks’ launch, BPRD organized several free talks on proper dog park etiquette and behavior from experts like Mare Shey of dog training and daycare center Dancin’ Woofs and training and behavioral consultant Meredith Gage of Pawsitive Experience.
BPRD recognizes that off-leash areas may not be a fit for every dog, including those with a potentially aggressive nature or lacking the necessary social skills, and has also issued a visitor’s guide to help make the experience a positive one.
It is advised to let your dog off-leash as soon as you arrive within the boundaries of the dog park. Mixing leashed and unleashed dogs can cause problems, as leashed dogs often feel threatened by free dogs and may display defensive behaviors.
Also, young puppies (8-16 weeks of age) should be socialized at a puppy kindergarten class rather than at a dog park.
Following the successful fruition of the expanded OLA initiative, DogPAC Vice President Jan Gifford commented: “We believe in responsible dog guardianship for the sake and safety of our dogs in our community and are pleased to see Bend promote a reputation as a dog-friendly town.
“Dog guardians are thrilled to have these new opportunities to enjoy time in the outdoors with their best friend. The provision of more off-leash areas also encourages social interaction and the strengthening of community bonds.
“We want dogs to be good canine citizens – they can really enhance and add to the quality of life – and the expanded dog park outlets have been the results of a wonderful collaborative effort between the wider community and the parks and recreation district.
“DogPAC encourages people to take responsibility for, and pride in, these new off-leash areas to maintain these parks as successful recreational outlets.”
Gifford also pointed to the local boost economically from a healthy canine population, from the obvious veterinary and pet store perspective, to a variety of other businesses benefitting, like outfitting icons Ruff Wear and outdoor stores where dog guardians buy their gear to accompany their dog on the trail, snow or water. Reportedly, a town’s dog-friendly status can also even favorably affect house hunting and relocation decisions.
Richard Florida’s best-selling book Rise of the Creative Class stresses the importance of “developing a world-class people climate” as part of the economic development process. Places to walk one’s dog was specifically noted as an investment that would benefit a wide swath of the population and attract the aforementioned “creative class” that makes a local economy vibrant.
And Bend certainly is a Mecca for our furry friends. According to U.S. census data, 36 percent of American households own dogs, while roughly half of Bend households are home to the canine creatures – proving this is certainly not a fringe phenomenon.