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.