Small dogs get a place of their own at Bear Creek Dog Park
25 pounds is maximum size in new area

       If you can't play with the big dogs…
       … Then make a play area of your own.
       That's what's happened this winter at El Paso County's 20-acre Bear Creek Dog Park, which has existed for 10 years at 21st and Rio Grande streets. A 1 ¾ -acre space is now fenced off from the rest of the park (except for a remote area along the creek), so that dogs 25 pounds or less have an off-leash place to themselves.
       The plan, as well as about $5,000 for the chain-link fence, emanated from area dog lovers, with administrative support from County Parks.
       Credited with the initial brainstorm is Allen Herzberg, owner of a 16-pound rat terrier named Tonka. “My little dog is friendly but active,” he explained in a recent interview. “When I took him to the dog park, he kept getting in trouble with the bigger dogs. He wanted to play, but he'd get rolled in the dirt.”
       This was in 2004. Herzberg began researching the possibilities. On the Internet, he looked up other dog parks around the country and found that “a lot of them have small-dog areas,” he said.
       A commonality in such parks was the 25-pound dividing line. “At some point you have to pick a number,” he said. “And that's why I was pleased to find such a wealth of experience out there.”
       The next step was finding out if the idea had support. Herzberg met with Lovers Of Off-Leash Parks (LOOP), the volunteer group that had formed in early 2004 to help the county take care of the Bear Creek Dog Park. Buoyed by popular support (95 percent of 45 people surveyed at the park liked the concept), LOOP and Herzberg over the following year came up with the plan that was eventually implemented - a clearly defined space near the park entrance that would be fenced and gated to prevent small dogs from getting out and big dogs from getting in.
       Area dog owners also supported the idea with their wallets. A total of $2,000 for the fence was raised in just two days of fund- raising at the park. “We looked on it as a stamp of approval,” said Ron Buchanan, the head of LOOP.
       County Parks helped by reviewing the plans and lining up a contractor to install the fencing. “That dog park is probably the most used part of our parks system, believe it or not,” County Parks Director Tim Wolken said. “I've been there when it's zero degrees, and people are out there walking their dogs.”
       The park, which is free and open to the public, is the only off-leash place for dogs in the County Parks system. It's also bigger than most such parks Wolken has seen. “We're blessed with that,” he said. “Others around the nation are a lot smaller, and there's no grass left after six months.”
       Dog owners using the park should have their animals on voice command; also, their dogs should not behave aggressively toward other dogs or people. Highly visible at the entrance is a dispenser of plastic bags that people are encouraged to use in cleaning up after their dogs.
       In conjunction with County Parks, LOOP has helped form a dog park advisory subcommittee, which will help plan future improvements to the facility. Upcoming this year will be an upgrade of the trail around the park, Buchanan said. Under consideration is another closed-off area near the entrance, for puppies or as a transition for dogs that are new to the park. LOOP would also like to eventually complete the creekside fencing for the small-dog area, he said.

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