Half-acre “Bark Park” opens for resident canines

by Laura Bednar

The furry four-legged residents of Independence celebrated the opening of the city’s “Bark Park” with sniff-filled greetings and Frisbee catches.

The park is located off Selig Drive, west of the library and behind the T-ball field. Residents can access the park using the driveway before the service department, which empties into a parking lot near Liberty Playground.

Recreation Director Tom Walchanowicz said residents expressed interest in a dog park in a 2019 community survey. It became a more pressing need during the pandemic, when people were spending more time outdoors.

“It feels like the pet population doubled,” said Walchanowicz. “People were bringing their dogs onto the baseball fields.” He added that people disregarded signs stating dogs were prohibited on the field and were not picking up after their pets.

The construction of the park started in late 2022 by leveling the area, which was mostly brush and dirt mounds. No trees were taken down to create the park. This spring, the parks and recreation department planted grass seed, and the park officially opened on Oct. 3. The work was done primarily in-house but an outside contractor installed a fence.

Walchanowicz said the original proposed location was the former middle school property on Brecksville Road, but city council wanted to explore other locations.

“We found [the current location] was a larger area than the middle school property,” said Walchanowicz. “We are making use of prime property that the city already owns.”

The park is almost half an acre, roughly 200-by-250-square-feet. It is divided into two areas by fencing, one side for small dogs (under 25 pounds), the other for large dogs (over 25 pounds). The park is open to residents and their guests at their own risk. Owners are solely responsible for the actions of their dogs and injuries caused by a dog under their control.

Other regulations: Dogs must be leashed entering and exiting the park, the gate must be closed at all times, no more than two dogs per person during any visit, scoop poop using the bag station and trash can on site, and children under the age of 14 must be supervised.

There is no maximum number of people and dogs that can be in the park simultaneously, as long as the dogs are getting along, according to Walchanowicz.

The parks and recreation staff will maintain the park. Hours are dawn until 9 p.m. daily, and the park is open year-round.

“It’s not weather-dependent,” Walchanowicz said.

A temporary light has been set up in the park for evenings, and more permanent lighting is planned for the spring.

The park is open green space, but additional features are planned for the future. Next year, the park will have a swipe reader so residents with recreation membership cards can swipe in and out. Picnic tables, benches and water fountains that include a dog bowl at the bottom are other planned additions. Parks and Recreation Manager Ryan Wancata said the parks and recreation department will add more amenities for the dogs, like trees, raised ramps and other obstacle course-like equipment.

“It’s a fairly inexpensive amenity for residents and it gets dogs off the soccer and baseball fields,” said Walchanowicz.

He noted that the dog facility could easily be moved to another location if the city were to have a larger vision for the land.

“I can’t thank Recreation Director Walchanowicz and his team enough for their perseverance,” said Mayor Greg Kurtz. “They did a phenomenal job on the location. It’s long overdue.” ∞

Independence police officer Bryan Vitron throws a frisbee for his K-9 dog Argo. His other German Shepherd Barrett waits his turn. Photo by Laura Bednar.

Murphy sports a bow tie as he runs through the new park. Photo by Laura Bednar.

On our cover (photo): City officials (l-r) Councilman Jim Trakas holding resident dog Oden, Mayor Greg Kurtz holding visiting dog Murphy and Recreation Director Tom Walchanowicz open the city’s new dog park off of Selig Drive. Independence police K-9 Argo christens the park by catching a frisbee. Photos by Laura Bednar.