As Hockett, of Burnsville, put ice cubes in water bowls for the dogs, he talked about how the socializing has been invaluable for Andrea Feikert’s tiny dog Bella, who ran along the fence with a pack of dogs.
“It’s nice to have playmates come every time,” agreed Feikert, of Burnsville. “She really has come out of her shell here. Before, she would just sit on me or under the table here.”
“All the dogs are really friendly,” said Jan Mueller, of Apple Valley, who brings her dog, Beezer. “They get up on the table and go from person to person.”
The three regulars chat at a picnic table under a shelter, and the socializing seems to be equally good for dog owners. Many south metro dog parks have a similar coffee club atmosphere, and that, along with the obvious benefit of having a well-exercised dog, may help account for their surge in popularity.
Earlier this year Newsweek reported that the number of dog parks in major U.S. cities jumped from 353 in 2008 to 617 in 2013.
The Twin Cities’ south metro has kept pace, with several opening in recent years and more coming in the near future.
Next month, Shakopee’s first dog park will open. Savage will open a second one this fall. Though still in the planning process, Dakota County has been outlining a large one for its soon-to-be-unveiled Whitetail Woods Regional Park, between Farmington and Rosemount.
Here’s a look at some existing south metro dog parks and a glimpse of the ones to come.
Spring Lake Regional Park
The 10-acre Spring Lake Regional Park off-leash area opened a couple of years ago.
It includes a separate small dog area, with its maze of pathways cut through the brush and small trees, a hit with my own little dog.
There’s an automated pay machine for the daily pass fee (it accepts credit cards), water for drinking and for washing dogs, and restrooms.
As at some other parks, regulars keep things in order. Jeff Cullison, of Prior Lake, held up a washcloth that he said he recently started bringing to the park. He emptied the communal silver water dish and wiped it before he refilling it with water from a plastic jug.
Dog waste can be a problem at off-leash areas, but Dana Reetz, of Prior Lake, said that’s not an issue here. “They say at the front door that there isn’t a poop fairy,” she said, “but I think there is.”
If there is one, it’s Scott Rein, of Shakopee, who regularly takes on the thankless task of wheeling around a tub, which he fills with abandoned droppings. No one pays him, and people sometimes give him strange looks, but, he said, he doesn’t care.
Rein’s Siberian husky likes to hunt mice there in the winter, so awhile back, he said, he put some pressure on the park to pack down the trails in the winter, which they do, he said.
“This is just so convenient for me,” he said of the park, adding that his dogs “go crazy coming down the gravel road.”
Cleary Lake Park, Prior Lake
Mark Themig, Scott County’s parks chief, says the off-leash area situated at the southern end of Cleary Lake Regional Park is one of the most heavily used in the entire Three Rivers Park District, stretching into Hennepin County as well.
The parking lot is full on a Sunday morning, and a parks employee sits in his truck watching the vehicles. (If you come, bring cash for the pay box.)
Kelly and Mike Dupasquier, of Prior Lake, visit the park every day after work with their dogs, Madison and Bauer.
They walk the wide, grassy path that runs the perimeter of the park, and my dog follows theirs, disappearing in the brush along the path, and reappearing further down. Fencing surrounds a pond in the center: owners can choose to let their dogs access it, or not. At the park entrance, there are restroom and water facilities, as well as a picnic table, where regulars gather.
At this park as well as Spring Lake, the cost of a daily pass can be applied toward an annual Three Rivers off-leash pass.
Alimagnet Park, Burnsville
The road to Alimagnet Park runs past crowded sports fields and a busy playground, and the dog area is generally just as full.
Established in 2001, it has a strong volunteer force behind it, and in 2005, “Dog Fancy” magazine ranked it the 3rd best dog park in the nation.
The park has a separate dog area for small or fragile dogs. In the main area, a path circles a pond, and on the eastern end is a wide open space for running.
In the winter, visitors are treated to a heated shelter area, heated dog bowls, and lights for evening walks. The park doesn’t require a daily fee, but people are strongly encouraged to purchase a $20 annual membership.
Thresher Fields Park, Eagan
Eagan opened an off-leash area in Thresher Fields Park two years ago. The drive to the park winds through a commercial industrial area.
In early evening, the park is quiet, except for the sounds of the nearby soccer field, the steady hum of a nearby plant and planes flying in low overhead.
Wood chip paths wind through the woods and lead down to a lakeshore area with gated access. There’s a separate area for small dogs, and water and restrooms are open during warm months. Users should purchase a yearly $20 permit with the city.
Dakota Woods, Rosemount
Dakota Woods is a 16-acre fenced wooded park, with trails that wind through the trees and a large open area for running dogs.
“We opened up what we thought would be a sleepy little off-leash dog area,” said Katie Pata, Park Operations Coordinator for Dakota County Parks. Then she laughed: the park is incredibly popular, with the number of passes sold ($5 daily; $42.85 annual) increasing every year. Users are requesting more space.
To answer demand, phase two of the master plan for the county’s Whitetail Woods Regional Park, which opens next month, includes another dog park.
While still a couple of years out, Pata said the approximately 20-acre park will sit to the west of the current off-leash area. They are planning a separate small dog area, as well as spaces for training hunting dogs and a small area with risers for dog agility demonstrations. There also may be a rental facility for events like dog birthday parties.
“Pets are really becoming part of people’s family units,” said Pata. “There could be some really fun features like that.”
According to Shakopee’s director of Parks and Recreation Jamie Polley, the search for a dog park location began in 2005.
Construction for the city’s first off-leash area, part of the larger Southbridge Community Park, started in June, and while delayed about a month because of spring rains, sections should open early in September. The official grand opening is October 23.
The dog park will be about ten acres, with a quarter acre area designated for small breeds. In the main area, about a half mile of trails loop through one of the only stands of oak savanna in the city.
Savage opened its first dog park three years ago, downtown, on the north end of the city. City Administrator Barry Stock says its popularity made officials want to open one on the south side.
However, “we didn’t really have any land we could free up,” he said, adding that the remaining land in the area was either wetlands or developed.
So the city approached Three Rivers Park District about using part of its Murphy-Hanrehan Park, and developed a partnership. The city will foot the bill for paving a portion of Murphy Lake Road and the trailhead parking area. Themig said construction, also behind due to the wet spring, should be completed in late September or early October but could be sooner.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance journalist.