by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Services Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation
A quick walk around Prescott’s Downtown Courthouse Plaza and it is evident that the city is definitely a pet-friendly community.
This is not unique to Prescott, as there are reportedly 78.2 million dogs in 46.3 million households in the United States.
Given how dogs are often considered members of the family, a need to allow them off-leash in safe, designated areas, has resulted in substantial growth among dog parks. Designated dog parks allow socialization between dogs and humans, as well as developing agility while providing exercise for dogs.
Looking at the concept of dog parks, they are the result of the animal-rights movement of the 1980’s, when the first leash laws were enacted.
While there are no federal leash laws, local governments enact leash laws in various forms. In response to such leash laws, animal rights activists based their efforts on the need for designated open space in which their dogs could reduce possible destructive behaviors and boredom, and release energy, all while in a safe environment.
Research supports that dog parks lead to decreased crime in neighborhoods. Additionally, they include socialization and exercise for the animals and growth in the sense of community. Drawbacks include a higher rate of potential aggression by the animals if not properly supervised, disease contraction and noise.
Prescott’s own Willow Creek Dog Park officially opened in January 2001. Expanding over approximately 3.4 acres, the original facility was leased by the City from Arizona Public Service. Many of the amenities available in the original park were from citizen-fundraising efforts to meet the growing demands of off-leash dog areas.
Recognizing a need for improvements to the bustling dog park, resident Linda Nichols and her furry companion Callie entered the park in the fourth annual Beneful Dream Dog Park Contest. Chosen as a finalist from over 1,000 entries, her design featuring a firefighter theme, which paid tribute to Prescott’s fallen 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, was chosen as one of the 14 finalists. Beneful Dream Team judged the finalist’s video entries (70 percent of the total score) and the public was allowed to cast votes online (30 percent of the total score). In December 2013, Beneful announced Prescott as the recipient of a $500,000 renovation package.
Since the land the existing dog park occupied did not belong to the City of Prescott, alternate locations were discussed and ultimately APS generously donated a 2-acre parcel where the current park sits off Willow Creek Road.
Celebrity contractor Jason Cameron (DIY Network) and Arden Moore (pet expert) were in charge of renovations, including incorporating important perspectives from a dog’s point of view.
The team used many of Linda Nichol’s original design features still found in the park.
These include the red and yellow color scheme, fire hydrant features, an antique fire truck, agility tractor tires, and the front entrance inspired by the history of the Prescott Fire Department.
The park also has 20,000 feet of canine-friendly artificial turf called K-9 Grass, two shade structures and plenty of room for running.
With all of these fantastic improvements, national exposure from winning the contest, and general excitement amid dog owners the daily park visitation increased monumentally. While the park renovations came at minimal cost to the City, the number of staff dedicated to maintaining parks stayed the same. The Recreation Services Department quickly recognized the need for a volunteer group and began organizing interested park users into the Willow Creek Dog Park Volunteers that continue to carry the brunt of the workload necessary in keeping the park a pleasant destination for visitors.
Every Monday from 8 to 10 a.m. (except holidays), the park is closed for general use but open to volunteers who perform tasks such as restocking supplies, hosing off cement areas, pulling weeds, raking rock areas, applying enzyme spray essential in neutralizing odors, as well as other various tasks.
The first Monday each month Parks Maintenance staff assists volunteers with larger projects, sometimes providing larger equipment, and the park is closed to dogs during this time.
Otherwise, volunteers can bring their dogs during maintenance periods. Randomly, additional maintenance tasks will arise and the dedicated volunteers have stepped up to ensure these are completed in the interest of all park users.
As with any special-use park, there are rules and etiquette that should be followed at all times.
The Willow Creek Dog Park is open to dogs over 4 months old, which are properly licensed, and have the required vaccinations.
Park hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and 7 a.m. to sunset the remainder of the year.
The City of Prescott code Chapter 15 does include a leash requirement for domestic pets to be no longer than six feet. There is also a requirement for picking up after your pet.
Urban areas that experience high volumes of dog walking within parks and on trails include: Acker Park, Granite Creek Park, Constellation Trail, the Peavine National Recreation Trail and others.
For more information about the Willow Creek Dog Park, volunteering and full list of rules visit prescott-az.gov/recreation-area/willow-creek-park-dog-park/