Philly is clearly a city not only of brotherly love, but also one of dog lovers. However, for the many of us confined to the rigors of the urban jungle, this presented a problem: where can we find a safe place within the city’s confines where we can let our dogs run free for a little bit? The Schuylkill River Park seemed like the obvious solution, but that understandably raised problems with other park users and neighbors, who started complaining about off leash dogs, the wearing of the grass surfaces into dust by dogs running around, and dog waste not being picked up by the less responsible among us. By the early 1990s it was clear that the Schuylkill River Park needed to adopt adequate measures to respond to the increasing number of Philadelphia dog owners who needed a safe place to exercise their dogs.
Some historical photos of the park pre-dog run:
Eventually, due to the efforts of board members of the Friends of Schuylkill River Park (FSRP), a petition to create a fenced-in dog park was approved by the Mayor and the Fairmount Park Commission in 1997. On July 9th, 1998, the dog run was officially open within the current perimeter. To handle issues related to the new dog run, the FSRP Board created the Dog Owners’ Association in 2000. The organization held monthly meetings and created a website to monitor its progress and help dog owners communicate with one another.
The Dog Owners’ Association (DOA) ensured much of the early success of the project. Led by Adam Braunstein and Karoline Wallace and assisted by Arnie Zacharias and Sharon Blumberg, the DOA installed a bulletin board, a water fountain, and secured continuing wood chip maintenance. They decided to divide the park into an area for small dogs and one for large dogs, and create the double-gated entrance corral-an arrangement that solved a host of dog behavior issues. In collaboration with dog owners, they also established a set of rules for the use of the dog run and worked to provide better security in the park by convincing Fairmount Park and FSRP to install more lights in the park and keeping brush clipped back for better visibility.
A fully-fledged membership drive was started in 2002, requesting a small yearly donation to help pay for the maintenance of the dog run. By 2004 a fundraising effort secured the money necessary to resurface the dog run with a special Limestone Dog Run mixture. This mixture replaced the previous wood chips that tended to migrate towards the edges, leaving the center area extremely dusty or extremely muddy, depending on the weather. Monthly email updates and newsletters ensured that the DOA message was heard by all its members. As a result of all these improvements, the Schuylkill River Dog Park was selected by the PhillyBlog.com online community as the Best Off-Leash Dog Park in Philadelphia for 2006. Also, Sky High, the US Airways magazine, declared the park a “must-do, perfect for pets and their parents” in November 2008.
Today, the DOA has been brought back into the folds of FSRP. In replacement, there is a Dog Run Committee which is chaired by a Board Member of FSRP. The Dog Run committee relies on volunteers to help maintain the run by picking up dog poo, filling holes, coming to clean-ups and reporting issues in the park. The overpass connecting our park to the Schuylkill Banks brought big changes to the Dog Run. The large dog area was extended to the south to replace the space taken from the riverside by the connector bridge. Improvements included: a planted area surrounding the dog run, a new fence, a seating wall going around the inside periphery, a new K9 Grass surface and water fountains in the large and small dog areas.