When the Forest Preserve District of Will County opened its first dog park at Hammel Woods in Shorewood back in 2002, no one really knew what to expect.
“We developed it on sort of a trial basis because at that time there weren’t too many dog parks. There wasn’t a lot of information out there on how to design one, what’s the best kind and all those details,” said Ralph Schultz, director of planning and operations for the district. “We kind of did it on a shoestring budget. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into.”
District officials started out with an open field in Hammel Woods, and from there, they put in a parking lot, fencing, a latrine and shelter, he said.
Soon after the opening, officials learned quickly: Big dogs and little dogs don’t mix. So, the district’s second dog park, which opened three years later at Whalon Lake in Naperville, was redesigned so that it had two separate fenced areas to keep small and large dogs separated.
“We did this for obvious reasons,” he said.
Because of lessons learned early on, the dogs of Will County are getting an even bigger bang for their bark.
The district’s newest dog parks – Whalon Lake in Naperville, Messenger Marsh in Homer Glen, Forked Creek Preserve in Wilmington and Rock Run in Joliet – all have three separate fenced areas. One is for large dogs, another for small dogs and a third section is left alone from time to time so that the grassy turf can essentially rest and restore itself from heavy use, Schultz said.
The grand opening of the Rock Run Dog Park on Saturday marks the fifth of its kind in Will County – and it’s all for man’s best friend, Schultz said.
“I think your dog becomes an extension of your family. I think people see that. That’s something we’ve been able to provide,” Schultz said. “Our off-leash dog park areas give pet owners an opportunity for their pet to socialize and also for them to socialize. It helps them build on that commonality.”
The district’s dog parks have proven to be popular among Will County residents over the years. The number of dog park permits have grown from a few hundred when Hammel Woods’ dog park first opened in 2002 to the 2,350 permits issued in 2013 for the district’s four dog parks, according to information provided by the district.
A sixth dog park is already in the planning stages. It will be located on the east side of Will County in the Plum Valley Preserve at Route 394 and Exchange Road, Schultz said.
The district recently applied for a state grant to help pay for the new park, he said.
POLICIES AND PERMITS
• To ensure safety of all pets that use the park, pet owners must provide a current rabies tab number and expiration date for each dog.
• A permit is required to enter the premises and must be worn at all times while visiting the park.
• For permit prices, types and requirements, visit the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s website at www.reconnectwithnature.org/preserves-trails/dog-parks.