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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2004 Issue

Who Let the Dog Parks Out?
Across America, canine gated enclaves enter the dog-eat-dog world of urban recreation.
By Felix Gillette

Ann Farrow

Susyn Stecchi's house in Sanford, Florida, has an ample backyard. There's plenty of room for her two dogs, Shawnee and Scooter, to run around and frolic in the Sunshine State's warm, wet air. But sometimes Shawnee and Scooter need more in the way of canine companionship. So, once or twice a week, Stecchi puts her pooches in the car and drives a few blocks to downtown Sanford—a city on the shores of Lake Monroe near the outskirts of Orlando. There, beneath a grove of oak trees, spreads a little patch of doggy heaven called Paw Park. "The dogs love it," Stecchi says. "They can get wild and crazy there. In a good way.".

For Shawnee and Scooter that means cavorting with other dogs free from the bane of modern canine existence—the leash.

The park got started in May 2000 when a group of residents lobbied city officials on behalf of Sanford's canine constituency. After some convincing, the Sanford City Commission donated land for the park and chipped in $15,000 to help build its infrastructure. Paw Park opened a year later, and today supporters like to brag that it is the "oldest off-leash dog park in central Florida."

Most dog parks evolve around a simple design concept. Find a patch of grass. Fence it in. Add amenities such as benches, landscaping, and water fountains. Set the dogs free. The majority of dog parks in the United States are created by public parks and recreation departments and are usually designed internally by park officials. Paw Park, for example, was designed in part by Howard Jeffries, former manager of parks and maintenance for the city of Sanford, whose training is in ornamental horticulture.

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