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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A new dog park is coming to Ward 7

Ward 7 resident Darren Thompson spends up to three hours each day exercising his dog. When he isn’t on long walks with his bullmastiff, he is driving, sometimes as far as Arlington, to take him to a dog park.

Thompson has been a longtime advocate for the addition of a dog park in his community. The impact of these parks, he says, reaches far beyond our four-legged friends and can provide connection, fun and convenience for residents of the neighborhood.

Planning for a New Park

The District Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) currently manages and operates 16 dog parks across the city. While the parks vary significantly in size and design, they are all equipped with fencing and sufficient space for dogs to play together off leash. Under the Animal Control Act, these are the only public spaces within the District that dogs may legally be unleashed.

The new park, which will be the first of its kind east of the river, will be located at 4600 Texas Ave. SE across the street from Plummer Elementary School. The overall dimensions of the park will be 118 ft. by 85 ft., and the space will be divided into two separately fenced areas, one for small dogs and another for large dogs.

Plans for the park include many amenities for both dogs and residents. Photo courtesy of DGS.

Outside of enclosed areas, the site plans include several fido-friendly amenities including waste bag dispensers and drinking fountains equipped with dog bowls.

In addition to resources for dogs, the park will include shade shelters, picnic tables and grills. “I am hopeful that we can make this part of the community,” Thompson said, noting that the resources connected to the park will benefit all residents in the neighborhood including non-dog owners.

The District Department of General Services (DGS) will oversee the construction of the project and, once built, the park will be managed by DPR.

A Long Time Coming

Officials from DPR and DGS gathered to break ground on the project in early December which followed the more than six years of neighborhood canvassing, brainstorming and extensive discussion between neighbors and the city in an effort to “find middle ground” on priorities for the project.

After several years of discussion, the city proposed a plan in 2022. To the disappointment of park advocates, the city’s proposal did not include most of what the community had asked for. Of note, the plans lacked a dedicated and separate area for small dogs which was a top priority.

Finally a compromise was reached and the project was set to commence. Early on in the initial construction phase, however, DPR terminated their contract with the Broughton Construction Company which caused the project to face significant delays in commencing construction. The agency now estimates the completion of the project in late spring or early summer of 2024.

Far-Reaching Impact

As the opening of the park inches closer to a reality, community members are excited about opportunities to socialize their dogs and  have a place to connect with neighbors.

While the neighborhoods east of the river hold many public fields, green spaces, trails and sidewalks, these spaces are not always viable spaces for dog owners to exercise their dogs. Public spaces don’t allow dogs off leash, and pet owners have safety concerns about dogs drinking contaminated water on trails and picking up ticks present in heavily wooded areas.

The park will create a safe area for dogs to run and play and is predicted to be a vibrant and busy park. Advocates of the project canvassed the neighborhood and estimate that approximately 300 dogs live within half a mile radius of the site.

Not All Are Happy with the Park

Some neighbors have voiced opposition on social media expressing a need for updates to other public spaces east of the river or alternative uses of the space planned for the park.

Donna Watts noted that neighbors have “all of Dupont Park to walk their dogs” and highlighted the importance of “upgrading and securing our kid parks at our two [recreation centers] first.”

Ashleigh Mitchell also commented on her disappointment about the use of the space for a dog park. “I’m sad,” Mitchell wrote. “I really wanted to put a community garden there for the school.”

Neighbor Elizabeth Rigby recently adopted Jasper, a standard poodle, and has been taking him to various dog parks across the District and Maryland since last summer. She looks forward to having a place to take her pup that is closer to home. She acknowledged the community opposition to the project, but emphasized the positive impacts of the park for the community.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in dog parks across the city and I do recognize the symbolism of dog parks being a marker of gentrification,” Rigby said. “…I don’t think anyone thinks that a dog park is more important than safe parks and recreation centers for children, but I don’t think that is exactly what is going on here” noting the multitude of nearby recreation centers and open green spaces.

Thompson noted that the neighborhood response to the project has been “overwhelmingly supportive” from the beginning. The team of park advocates has effectively worked to “assuage concerns” of neighbors throughout the application and discussion process.

“To those who say something better should be there, I don’t know what something better would be,” he said.

Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, a longtime advocate for pets and animal welfare, expressed excitement about the project and what it will bring to residents in the community.

​​”Being outdoors is a healthy activity for pets and owners. I’m delighted that Ward 7 will have a dog park. The park will bring together people with a shared love for dogs; an activity that can build relationships and, in turn, strengthen our community,” Gray said.

Gray acknowledged opposition to the project, but noted the importance of a diverse set of options for people to use within the District’s parks and recreation network.

“City resources are varied so that the diverse needs of different people are met,” Gray said. “For example, not everyone swims, but we have pools. The same can be said of many facilities and programs.”

Rigby emphasized that the park would fulfill a need for an “amenity that was missing in Ward 7” and lauded the hard work of project advocates and organizers who canvassed the area and have provided updates for the community throughout the years-long approval process.

“It has been a lot of work even after the park was funded in the city budget,” Rigby said. “I’m happy for them that it is finally happening, and I’m excited to bring my dog there too.”

Visit dgs.dc.gov for more information about the park and for upcoming announcements about the park’s opening.

Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.

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