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Giving Dog Parks The Sniff Test

by Jan Morgan-Swegle

I have learned that when you have a dog in your life, that dog quickly becomes family. My husband and I swore that we weren’t going to spoil our dog, because, after all, “it’s just a pet.” Well, it took us about two weeks to fall back on that pledge. Dixie, our dog, sleeps on our comfortable chairs, has a doggie stairway next to our bed and when she barks out her treat demands, we comply. She’s not “just a pet,” she is a loving part of our family unit and we can’t imagine life without her. I always tell people that Dixie is the smartest dog in the world. It took her less than a month to train two full-grown humans.

We don’t have a fenced yard, so we often take her to dog parks to get her exercise and other doggie socialization. Because only the best is good enough for Dixie, I came up with a list of dog park “must-haves” and went on a search to see what dog parks passed the sniff test for her to enjoy when we go out for a day with her.

On a scale of 1 to 4 paws, I looked at each park for: Signage and accessibility, upkeep, cleanliness, access to water, grassy areas, shade for the dog and owner, seating areas and separation of dogs by size.

Since we live in Compass Pointe, and this is Dixie’s “home” park, I didn’t rate it—she loves it here. We have a private park, open to residents and guests only. It does have separate areas for large and small dogs and access to water. There are seating areas and a small pavilion and a corrugated hard rubber tire tunnel for the small dogs to run through.

The first park we visited was the Brunswick Riverwalk At Belville, located at 580 River Road SE. This is an open park and dogs must be on a leash. There wasn’t a specific sign directing you to a dog area, but there was a dog waste station at the entrance of the park. Further down the hiking trail was access to water for dogs and there were plenty of trees and shady areas. This is a good park for a family with a dog. It has swings, WIFI, restrooms and picnic tables. There is a beautiful scenic walk next to the river and a small armed services remembrance area for just sitting and reflecting. Out of 4 paws, we rated this park 2.7. I would have liked to have seen a specific, fenced area for dogs to be able to run on a beautiful North Carolina day.

From there, we went to West Gate Nature Park, located at 1260 W. Gate Drive in Leland. This is a small, beautiful park behind Walmart on Rt 17. Like Brunswick Riverwalk, this was not specifically a dog park, but dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash. This park rated high in the categories of “upkeep, cleanliness and access to water for dogs.” There were grassy areas and shade to keep dogs cool, but also, picnic tables and climbing activities for children. Out of 4 paws, we rated West Gate at 3.2. Small, grassy areas near the picnic tables and seating areas would be good for dogs to rest and be comfortably near their family.

Since I was familiar with the Compass Pointe dog park, I wanted to look at another dog park associated with a housing development so a friend took me to the Brunswick Forest dog park that her dog loves. This is a private park open to residents and guests only. Resident dogs have to be registered with an up-to-date vaccination record on file. This should be the standard for resident dog parks. You have to know where it is, as signage is limited, but once you get there, it’s beautiful. This park rated 4 paws in every other category except signage. There were two fenced areas—one for large and one for small dogs. There were benches under trees, plenty of shade and grassy areas for dogs to run or just roam and sniff. Each area had water access and plenty of room to throw toys. The cleanliness and upkeep were on par with the location. Out of 4 paws, this park was rated 3.8. I never thought of a dog park in a residential development as an “amenity.” For me, it was a nice to have, not an essential. We enjoy our home park, but, if you have a dog or multiple dogs and are planning to relocate to this area, take a good look at Brunswick Forest. Your dog will give you 4 paws up!

We ended our tour at Town Creek Park, located at 6420 Ocean Highway E, in Winnabow. This is an open park, where dogs are welcome on their leashes, but there is also a specific dog park on the premises. This park scored high in separation of dog by size, seating areas, access to water and having a grassy area. The fencing enclosure access doors could have used some attention, as it was difficult to get the lock mechanism back in place to ensure dogs didn’t get out. This is what I call a “dog person park.” Safe interaction with other dogs is encouraged and their owners are eager to tell you about their breed and history. Dogs are a lot like wine—people have their own personal favorites; they bring people together in lively conversation and they can be an expensive hobby! But both are well worth the effort. We rated this park 3.4 out of 4 paws and I’m sure we will be visiting again.

All of the parks we visited had doggy waste stations and signage encouraging owners to clean up after their pets. Many of the parks had dog waste bags available to keep common areas clean—especially around the swings and other amenities that children would find attractive.

It was a fun adventure for my husband and I, but especially for Dixie. She was exhausted when we got home and didn’t bark to go outside for several hours. She was busy dreaming about her day out in the mild weather, meeting other dogs and riding in the car with the window down. The parks left their mark on her and I’m sure she left hers where ever we went!


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