Denver Dog Park Dust-Up

Denver is one of the dog-friendliest cities in the U.S., but the closure a popular off-leash park has residents up in arms. What's next for dog parks in city limits?
With 1.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents, Denver stacks up well against cities like Kansas City (0.6 parks per 100,000 residents), Oklahoma City (0.5) and Atlanta (0.4).

Minneapolis, judged as having the nation's best park system by the Trust for Public Land for two years running, is one of the few cities that compares with Denver when it comes to number of dog parks, equaling the Mile High City's 1.7 parks per 100,000 residents.

But there's nothing like having something and seeing it taken away. That's the case with the Josephine Gardens dog park on East Colfax Avenue, next to East High School. It's no stretch to say the park has been a victim of its own dog-park success.

The city of Denver bought the former Church in the City site several years ago intending to build a recreation center on the land, but lacked the funds to do so immediately. So for more than four years, that land has been used as a community garden and a 1.1-acre dog park. Because of its central location and size, it quickly became the most popular dog park in the city. But that purpose was always intended to be temporary.

Late this summer, though, it finally became official: The Josephine Gardens dog park will close for good on Oct. 26, and construction on the recreation center will begin. Eventually a dog park roughly one-fourth the current size will be created in part of that space. Scott Gilmore, Denver Parks and Recreation deputy manager, estimates the new, smaller dog park will open in 2017.

But that hasn't satisfied all regulars of the dog park, who have sought to have the enclosure relocated to a section of 317-acre City Park.

"Josephine Gardens is really a regional dog park," says Ethan Hackley, who has lived in the Curtis Park neighborhood for 13 years. "It pulls people from all over the place into this particular park. There's always, or almost always a dog in the park. You always are guaranteed there'll be some kind of canine companionship."

Roughly 4,000 signatures were collected to champion the cause of relocating Josephine Gardens to City Park, aided by petitions on the Facebook page "For the Love of City Dogs Denver," the website created by Hackley and paper petitions circulated on clipboards at the dog park and posted at some retail establishments in the area.

A difficult moveThe Josephine Gardens dog park will close for good on Oct. 26.

"The challenge with City Park is that it's a very historic-type park that's been in the city for 100 years, and it's a challenging area to add anything to," says Gilmore. He makes his point by recalling the $4 million City Loop playground project that failed to garner adequate support for City Park and now is being built at Paco Sanchez Park on Federal Boulevard and 13th Street.

"Some individuals who came to meet me just wanted us to just give them the [dog park] fence to Josephine Gardens so they could just go put it up somewhere else. I think they just see grass here and they say, 'Hey, that's a great area.' It's not that easy."

The closest designated spot to Josephine for that canine companionship is Fuller Park, near Manual High School. Gilmore says it's a mile from Josephine. Hackley says he's measured the distance on Google Maps and contends it's 2.4 miles.

Keeping dogs and owners happy in Denver sounds a little like the challenge faced by Millennials moving to the city and struggling to find housing.

"The way Denver has moved, we're getting a lot more density, a lot more apartments, a lot more townhomes, houses that don't have yards," Gilmore of Parks and Recreation says. "Everybody has dogs, but they don't have anywhere to take them to let them run. That's why I understand that dog parks are critical."

The city lost another dog park temporarily when Barnum Park, one of the first dog parks in Denver, closed about two months ago. But Gilmore says Barnum will be renovated and then re-open. He also says a dog park is being looked at for Park Hill to open in the next year, and he is exploring the possibility of a much grander facility: a 10-acre park in an undeveloped part of Stapleton. 

"I can't guarantee this is going to happen, but it's something I'm definitely looking at," says Gilmore, who points out that his department has implemented every aspect of a 46-page "Dog Park Master Plan and Policy Recommendations" created in 2010 before he was appointed to his post. "There won't be any people or houses around the site I'm looking at. It's just a concept I've just been floating around."

In his position, Gilmore has the unique perspective of seeing Denver's dogs from the standpoint of both dog owners (he has three himself), and citizens who don't want to contend with unleashed dogs or encounter their poop in the city's parks.

In fine formDenver is near the top of the list in the U.S. with 1.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents.

Not that the situation hasn't improved under Gilmore's watch. "When I first started," he recalls, "I was getting calls from Cheesman neighbors nonstop: 'Dogs are running off-leash’ . . . 'Dogs are out here every day' . . . 'There's poop everywhere.'"

That was four years ago, when there were two park rangers. Gilmore increased the number of rangers to nine, plus 20 on-call rangers.

"So we have around 25 to 30 rangers patrolling the city," he says. "And that's been huge. We gave rangers the ability to enforce rules and regulations that we have. I had people tell me, 'You're never going to make a difference. These people in Cheesman have lookouts; they have a kitty they pay out of if someone gets a ticket.'

"I'll tell you what, we burned that kitty up pretty quick," Gilmore says now. "We started giving citations left and right at Cheesman park. Now I drive through Cheesman every morning after I drop my daughter off, and very rarely do I ever see a dog off-leash."

Being caught with your dog off-leash carries a fine of $100 on the first offense. Failing to pick up your dog's poop will set you back $150. "We try not to give citations," Gilmore says. "Right away we tried to educate first. It depends on the whole situation. But it does send a message."

Case in point: "One of my best friends called me and said, 'Scott, I just got a ticket for having my dog off-leash in Barnum Park!'

"Was your dog off-leash?"


"I said, 'Well, pay the citation. Why are you even calling me?'"

And Gilmore went a step further, calling the ranger who had cited his friend and thanking him.

Citations issued by park rangers

Dates                                              Number of citations                        Total fines assessed
9/1/2013- 8/30/2014                     289 / 266                                             $29,400 / $27,550
9/1/2014-8/30/2015                      354 / 288                                             $36,150 / $29,300
Note: In figures above, the first number refers to parks and trails throughout the Denver Parks System, which includes parks in Jefferson, Douglas and Clear Creek counties; the second number refers to parks and trails in the City and County of Denver. The typical fine amount is $100. However, some of the citations involved multiple charges and/or more than $100 per citation (i.e. second offense is $250, third offense is $500). Source: Parks and Recreation Department, City and County of Denver.

Dog park locations
  • Berkeley Dog Park: Sheridan Boulevard and West 46th Avenue (1.9 acres)
  • Kennedy Dog Park: Hampden Avenue and South Dayton Street (2.2 acres)
  • Josephine Dog Park: Josephine Street and 16th Avenue (1.1 acres) (Closing Oct. 26)
  • Fuller Dog Park: Franklin Street and East 29th Avenue (0.7 acres)
  • Green Valley Ranch East Dog Park: Jebel and East 45th Avenue (1.5 acres)
  • Railyard Dog Park: 19th Street and Little Raven Street (0.6 acres)
  • Lowry Dog Park: East 4th Place and South Yosemite Way (2.4 acres)
  • Greenway Dog Park: East 22nd Avenue and Syracuse Street (2.9 acres)
  • Parkfield Dog Park: East 53rd Avenue and Chambers Road (0.6 acres)
  • Little Boxcar: Broadway and Lawrence streets (0.1 acres)
http://www.karapearson.comPhotos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor is a freelance writer in Denver. He is editor of ColoradoBiz magazine and previously wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Anchorage Times.
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