Back in March of this year, we heard about Will Ratner, a 7th-grader at JW Middle School, who had launched a campaign to bring an off-leash dog park to Princeton. We had planned to follow up about this, but in the meantime, young Mr Ratner went ahead and collected 82 signatures for his petition, researched the dog park situation in local municipalities, and made a presentation to Princeton Council!
You can see Will Ratner’s presentation to Council about the dog park in this video (he starts speaking at 1min 48″):
Apparently the Princeton Recreation Department are ‘looking into it’. No research has been done as to the feasibility of having an off-leash dog park, even though similar facilities exist in South Brunswick, West Windsor, and Montgomery township. Not everyone is excited about the idea of a dog park: there are questions about whether it would lead to a load of dog mess around, and what the legal risks are for the municipality. But these questions have come up before in other places and solutions exist. For example, the dog-owning community usually self-regulates such that people not cleaning up after their pet will [quite rightly!] be the subject of much disapproval.
There are advantages to having a dog park, not just for dog-owners, but also for people who think it’s good to have members of the community out walking around as much as possible. Having more people walking around is good for public safety, because it brings ‘eyes to the street’ and makes it harder for criminals to go about unnoticed. A dog park also brings people together, by acting as another community space. Quite a few marriages probably had their origin in chance encounters at dog parks!
Getting down to more prosaic matters, however, we have to ask: where should a Princeton dog park be? Should we have one dog park, or a couple of them at different ends of town? And what facilities should there be at a Princeton dog park? All dog parks should have certain features, such as facilities for cleaning up after dogs, shade trees, and a source of drinking water. But to really do it right, you want a separate fenced area for dogs of less than 30lb, curved fences so dogs can’t get ‘cornered’ and multiple entry/exit points with double gates. Of course, the more features a park has, the more expensive it will be, and that raises another question, of who’s going to pay for it!
Regarding location, we don’t know what the Parks and Recreation committee has in mind, but it seems that Mr Ratner has come up with a preliminary list of potential places where a dog park could go. We considered the following places:
We tried to focus mostly on locations that are Princeton municipal land. Our list includes the following sites:
- Community Park North – loads of space, close to a large population in Princeton North, and right by Princeton dog-walking mecca, Mountain Lakes Park. This is probably the most obvious location for a dog park.
- Valley Rd School Site – OK, not owned by the municipality, but a completely under-utilized site that is in easy walking distance of most of the town.
- Hilltop Park – Parking and space is pretty plentiful, but unless you are coming from Princeton Community Village, this is a driving-only location.
- Grover Park – Excellent location which is convenient walking distance to a huge number of people, and dog-walkers might also stop off at bars or cafes at nearby Princeton Shopping Center, providing local businesses with extra customers. But space is in short supply.
- Quarry Park – An interesting option, this park is right at the heart of downtown Princeton near a large population. Nearby residents might be wary about the possibility of dog-walkers parking in their neighborhood, because parking is in sort supply. Space is also likely to be an issue at this location.
Within reason, we would favor having a dog park. Some might say that dogs don’t belong in a town, but we tend to think that a functioning town accommodates all its citizens as best as possible. As with everything, we would favor a solution that makes it easy for people to arrive at the dog park on foot. One of Princeton’s best features is our ability to get around by walking, and this is something we should maintain in the future. However, there has to be a balance of providing a dog park and also space for kids to play safely. Do kids and dogs mix? A lot of the time, absolutely! But some people might not be so happy about having a dog park next door. Either way, we hope that the Princeton Recreation Department can quickly come up with a recommendation on a potential dog park site, so Will Ratner gets to enjoy it before he heads off to college!
*Updated 10.20.13 to remove erroneous Wikipedia links to Hilltop Park and Community Park*
We’d be interested in your thoughts– do you think a dog park would be good for Princeton? If so, where should it go? Have you any experiences of using off-leash dog parks elsewhere? Please leave a comment below.