May 2, 2007
On Friday I have the opportunity to present my research on off-leash dog recreation at the California State University Student Research Competition. I'm excited to participate, and nervous, of course.
Green DogWalks is the public outreach project that has evolved out of my study of off-leash dog walking trends at Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco. As you know, I'm a dogwalker, have been for about 7 years. Bernal Hts Park is the top 33 acres of an undeveloped hilltop in southeast SF; it's the park I go to the most. Two years ago I began an internship with the Natural Areas Program(NAP)of SF Rec and Parks Dept. I've learned tons and tons from the wonderful NAP staff, all of whom I consider my teachers.
So why study off-leash dogs? Well, Bernal Heights Park is a place for off-leash dogs and it's a Significant Natural Resource Area (SNRA) managed by the Natural Areas Program. Some folks find these two designations a bit conflicting. I see a potential partnership between stakeholders who love the park. Luckily, NAP likes my perspective and asked me to do some work on building dialogue between the agency and the dog walking community at Bernal Hill.
I did the research to get an idea of what the trends are like at the park so we know what we're dealing with in terms of volume of dogs, activities, and dispersal across the park. I found that an average of 765 dogs come to the park each day, handled by 473 people. That's a lot of potential partnerships for the community, a lot of stakeholders to help steward this park. I looked at a lot of variables that I won't bore you with here.
We took what we learned from the research and held 3 focus groups last summer to get input on how to structure our outreach project. It's been slow going on the outreach develpment, for a lot of reasons. But I created a frumpy little website for the project and did a display in the windows of the closest grocery store about the park. There was an article about the project and NAP in a dog newspaper. I've done some on site tours and outreach. Our brochure went to the designers today. We'll have that puppy out within a month, inshallah.
But we've also taken some physical steps to build bonds between NAP, native plant lovers, and dog lovers. Now, if you're not a dog lover, you might not see the value in these little steps, but trust me, they mean a lot to us. First we filled an annoying depression that would hold water long after the rain had passed. Dogs always wallowed in it, and it's a bit of a hazard in terms of giardia. Building on input from the focus groups, NAP mowed an area of low restoration value to keep it available to dogs as the foxtail season emerged. I am personally grateful for this as one of my clients is like velcro w/ foxtails. Foxtails hold the seeds of an invasive grass. They have a one way trajectory and often become lodged in dogs bodies, notably in the nose, ears, eyes, penises, toes and armpits.
Dog walkers have taken steps too. We held a poop pick up party in the fall. NAP let me write that up for their community newsletter, which means that lots of folks learned about the stewardship efforts of dog walkers. Similarly, dog walkers turned out to clean up McLaren Park the day before Earth Day. We announced that on stage to again draw those stewardship connections for folks.
I love this project. It's allowed me to bring together my love of dogs with my passion for conservation.