Lapping Up The Experience

Dogs-only swim beach provides exercise and socialization 

By Desiree Stanfield

Forty-five minutes north ofDetroit,Mich., dogs may mistake Orion Oaks Dog Park for heaven. Here, in this 24-acre, fenced, off-leash facility, they can mingle with other four-legged friends and take a dip at the dogs-only swimming beach, complete with a dock that allows for hours of jumping, fetching, and doggie-paddling.

Operated by Oakland County Parks and Recreation, the park boasts two trails, a small-dog area, drinking water, picnic shelter, and modern restrooms. Opened in August 2000, the dog park originally measured 7 acres, but was expanded due to high demand and now includes three sections–Dog Park A, B, and C–which are rotated to minimize wear and tear on the turf. In 2011, the dog park greeted 163,219 visitors.

Photos courtesy of Oakland County Parks and Recreation

After one season of operation, Park Supervisor Mike Boyd and his staff created a dogs-only swimming beach complete with an 80-foot by 8-foot floating dock that features three separate ramps so dogs can walk up and out of the water. The beach and dock are open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

“The distance from the parking lot to the dog beach is one-quarter mile. Some guests thought that was too far to walk. So, we took the perceived negative and made it into a positive by creating a quarter-mile off-leash ‘run’ from the parking lot to the dog beach,” Boyd says. “Owners were happy that their dogs could run free, and they could walk at their own pace.”

For the safety of pets, the dock is open with no sides or rails.

“Dogs can jump in from anywhere on the dock and not get caught on anything. And, we switched to rubber floor mats from wooden treads because little dogs had trouble getting enough traction to get up the ramps,” he adds.

The shoreline around the dog beach needed some natural reinforcement, so rocks and boulders were added to prevent erosion. Lakeweeds are not a problem because the swimming action of dogs prevents plants from getting established near the dock.

The dog beach became a gathering place, so picnic tables were added and owners can now relax while their pets swim. A crushed limestone path was added from an accessible parking lot–open to individuals with disabilities only–so they could have the same experience with their pets as other guests.

“We have some repeat visitors who don’t even have a dog, who visit to socialize and watch the dogs play,” Boyd says. “It’s great exercise for the dogs and entertainment for our guests. You can always tell who’s been to the dog dock by their wet clothes. It’s all part of the experience.”

A picnic pavilion with concessions is expected to be constructed in 2013 to meet the needs from organized groups like Michigan Basset Rescue that annually holds special events for several hundred people and their pets at the park.

“Overall, this was a very successful experiment with our first dog-dedicated facility. Several times a year, parks and recreation professionals at the local and state level visit the site to study how they could build a dog park. Oakland County Parks and Recreation is proud to be a leader in this innovative recreation opportunity,” Boyd says. “Dog people make great park visitors. They’re very friendly, get along well with other guests, and self-steward by picking up pet waste to keep the dog park clean.”

Since the dog park was constructed, two more dog parks have been built, and a fourth is in the planning stages.

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