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Wharton: Salt Lake City's off-leash dog parks

Published April 25, 2013 1:06 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Until Lucy the labradoodle came into my life just over two years ago, I might have vaguely heard the term "dog park." But I had no clue as to what these fenced off-leash areas, designed to allow pooches a place to run free, were all about.

My wife, Nancy, and I went to one while visiting our condo in Mesquite when Lucy was still a pup. There must be something friendly about dog lovers, because we struck up all sorts of friendships on what became daily visits.

So we purchased a pass to use the Millrace facility near our Taylorsville home. Lucy loves socializing with other dogs, chasing balls, ducking under the tunnels and simply running free. She whines with excitement as soon as we catch sight of the park.

I recently put Lucy in the back seat of my pickup to explore Salt Lake City's dog parks. I checked out Jordan, Cottonwood and Herman Franks parks.

Don't bother with Jordan Park. It isn't a big area to begin with, but the fence is down on the east and west sides. That makes it easy for dogs to escape, creating a dangerous situation. There were no doggy poop bags in the container and no garbage cans if you did pick up after your dog.

It took a bit of exploring to find the off-leash park in Cottonwood Park at 300 N. 1645 West, north of the Jordan River and Utah Department of Agriculture Building.

All of it was worth it. Not only was this beautiful and large shaded grass area with picnic tables, garbage cans, poop bags and benches one of the nicer facilities around, it gave me an opportunity to meet regulars such as Margaret McLaughlin, Michael Barnes and Earl Close as well as their friendly dogs.

"Most people come here every day," said McLaughlin. "We look after the property like it is our own. That creates kind people. Many go to breakfast together once a week. This facility serves not only the dogs but also the people without spending a lot of money."

Close rides a cycle with two wheels in the back, one in the front and a basket big enough to carry his small dog in it. Barnes rides an electric scooter to the park, also carrying his dog.

"It's kind of like a family," said Barnes, who said the city parks department has been responsive to the needs of the dog lovers. "The better job we do keeping it up, the better it stays."

That includes perhaps cleaning up after a not-so-responsible dog owner or being firm on the rare occasion an animal is a little too aggressive.

Kirsten Phillips of Calgary, Alberta, discovered the park with her poodle. She was staying at the nearby KOA and worried she was getting in the way of bicycle commuters using the Jordan River Parkway Trail. Then she found the off-leash area and said her dog was having the time of his life.

We had one more stop, this time at Herman Franks Park at 700 E. 1300 South. Tucked in around several baseball fields, this is a much bigger area than it looked from the road. Judging from the comments I heard, it may not be big enough.

"There were too many dogs on Saturday," said Lisa Anderson of West Bountiful, who comes here due to lack of off-leash areas in Davis County. "The owners were not watching them and there was more fighting and growling."

Anderson's friend Julie Thompson, who was visiting a dog park for the first time, loved the experience.

"Everybody here likes dogs," she said. "You don't have to worry about people being afraid of dogs."

"It's a great way to meet new people," Anderson added. "Dogs are great icebreakers."

Indeed they are. The best thing about dog parks is that they are a wonderful place to meet great people, all with the common interest of loving their pooches.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton