Urbana Park District
Established in 2003
For 95 of its first 100 years, the Urbana Park District focused
on providing a place for humans to enjoy park facilities. That changed when Urbana opened a 10-acre park for canine play in January 2003.
The dog park was the first phase of a 66-acre development that
will eventually include facilities for people as well at what the district refers to as its East Perkins Road site.
Creation of the dog park was set in motion by two simultaneous but separate events in the late 1990s. For many years, Champaign-Urbana dog owners had let their dogs frolic off-leash in an area off South Lincoln Avenue near the area that is now home to the University of Illinois' Tapan House. On pleasant days, there might be several dozen dogs running, swimming, or simply lying in the sun. That changed when the university began planning to expand its formal arboretum, and posted signs saying no off-leash dogs in that area.
About the same time, the city of Urbana, which had permitted off-leash dogs on city sidewalks as long as they were under vocal control of their owners, decided to change that policy and to require dogs on city sidewalks and streets to be on a leash.
Dog owners howled to the park board that they needed a place where their dogs could exercise off-leash. Urbana Park District then-Executive Director Robin Hall arranged a meeting at the Anita Purves Center to see if the park district could help. Approximately 70 dog owners attended.
They formed several committees to consider what size area was needed, where a site could be found, what the rules should be, how to raise money for such a park and other logistical topics.
When Hall suggested that perhaps a three-or four-acre site in an existing park could be fenced in, the owners howled again, saying a larger site was needed to provide room for large dogs to run and burn off energy. Eventually the owners' site committee looked at several locations. The eventual solution involved 10 acres of a 66-acre site a half-mile east of Cunningham Avenue along the south side of East Perkins Road. It belonged to the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District, which no longer was making active use of the site that served primarily as a dumping ground for governmental landscaping waste. The sanitary district agreed to lease the area to the park district. But who would pay for building a dog park? A fence around 10 acres costs money, and the park district's regular budget did not include funds for a fence.
A volunteer committee, formally the Dog Park Advisory Committee and informally the "Alpha Dogs;' sought donations, and over the next few years conducted tee shirt sales, silent auctions, Howlaween parties, doggie Easter egg hunts, and other events to raise money. Two anonymous five-figure donations were a key to the fund drive's success. The dog owners said they wanted one acre separately fenced for small or timid dogs, a parking lot and a water fountain, plus lots of space for dogs to play.
When bids were opened, the costs-especially for a proposed 42-car parking lot-were higher than expected. The parking lot plans were changed and a less expensive surface selected. Local groups, such as the Urbana police organization, donated benches. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals donated funds for a kiosk just outside the entry gates to the fenced areas. An improved parking lot is a major item on the park district's wish list.
In January 2003, the fence and parking lot were finished. A beagle-lab mix was reportedly the first dog to roam the fully fenced site the first morning after it was completed. More than 600 dogs were registered as park users the first year, far beyond the 300 registrants the 'Alpha Dogs" had estimated. More than 70 dogs attended the first doggie egg hunt held inside the park in 2003. About the same number were present for the first Howlaween party inside the park that fall.
Text from Mancuso, Dana L. (Ed.). (2007). A century of growth: the Urbana Park District's first 100 years. Urbana, IL: Urbana Park District.