Rocky Fork Dog Park closed — for now

The splash pad had been proving one of the most popular features of the dog park. We hope it will open again soon. Photo Dan Bissonette
The splash pad had been proving one of the most popular features of the dog park. We hope it will open again soon. Photo Dan Bissonette

Although the dog park at Rocky Fork remains closed, we are considering numerous options to help us open it again while maintaining a healthy condition of the ground. You may recall that we closed the dog park at the end of December, because of the rapidly deteriorating condition of the turf.

A great many dogs had come out to play when a week of rain and much warmer temperatures followed on from a very cold snap. The saturated turf was shredded as the dogs played and significant damage occurred.

Many of you will be aware that we choose not to open the dog park when we opened the park in August 2014. This was to allow for some more time for the turf to mature sufficiently to be strong enough to hold up to the wear and tear from our dogs. It seemed counterproductive to open it earlier, knowing the turf would quickly turn to bare dirt and mud. The community, although anxious to let their dogs begin enjoying the splash pad, showed patience and understanding. Once the dog park opened in April 2016 it was obviously worth the wait. We hadn’t really expected the enormous number of four-legged friends that began frequenting the site, but even still, the turf held up!

Throughout summer and fall the dog park seemed like paradise to our faithful best friends. Well, a little hot on some days, which prompted us to raise the priority of the shade structure designed for the center of the area. No doubt some of you already knew each other, however many of you made new friends that will last a lifetime. Even the rangers began learning most of the dogs by name which was a lot of fun.

Then came the crazy Ohio winter weather. A very cold early December transitioned into warmer temperatures and the skies opened up with rain as if it were March or April. I’m no meteorologist, but it sure seems like had it stayed colder, we’d have had many of the heaviest recorded snowfalls in quite some time.

Now that means different things to different people. Kids of course would’ve loved it… lots of snow days! And with a foot of snow covering the frozen ground, the dog park probably would have stayed open all this time. However, thawed, saturated soil combined with active big dog paws is a bad combination. And that’s without considering the muddy paw prints all over our car and house after a visit to the dog park.

The damage to the turf in the dog park was severe and quick. In very little time that mature, thick surface was being thrown up behind our running dogs similar to huge mudder tires on those monster trucks. The dogs were having fun, while all of us were spending more and more time cleaning off their paws before getting them back in our cars for the ride home.

Imagine the condition of that turf today, had it not been closed?

GOING FORWARD
All along we planned on opening the dog park as soon as the turf would not be susceptible to more damage. We are certain your dogs are bummed about not seeing and chasing their best friends in the dog park, but none of us want a muddy surface all the time. At this rate, it may take until we begin mowing the grass again before we can open it. However, there are a few ideas being considered, and some already implemented:

1) We might use temporary fencing to keep the dogs out of the worst areas until we can get the turf re-established.

2) We may decide to forget about turf altogether in the worst areas and cover it with mulch, although there is some concern about dogs running on that which we will have to consider carefully.

3) The new divider fence and sets of gates are already in, so there’s no more fumbling with the broken down gates. The original fence looked nice, but it was made for residential use and not the necessary heavy commercial use it received.

4) The shade structure will definitely be built before summer. We have the approved plans and have purchased the materials, we’re just waiting for the construction contractor to get free of their prior commitments.

5) We are going to extend the Off-leash Dog Trail by mowing a path around the back of the wetland. No gravel, just a mowed path as soon as it dries out enough to get our mower through. It’s clear that many dogs are already leaving the stone trail, which is allowed. However the expectation is that dogs remain leashed until you get on the trail, and they’re leashed again before you come off the trail to go to your car in the parking lot

And finally, there is some thought about a secondary dog park, possibly further into the park on the east side of the main road. Fenced in, yet unimproved, this area could be opened as an alternative when the manicured dog park needs to be closed again for any short-term reason.

Please don’t feel like we’ve forgotten about the dog park. We are aware of the popularity and want it used again as soon as possible. Metro Parks appreciates your patience. As a dog owner was quoted in a recent Dispatch article about dog parks,  “A good dog park is worth the wait, it’ll be much nicer in the spring.”

In the meantime, Metro Parks is always open to suggestions and new ideas that the community has to offer. Please feel free to contact the Rocky Fork Park Manager via email at: Bissonette@metroparks.net