When discussing the Chautauqua Pet Outdoor Area, two responses are common: “I hope they do something about the dog park soon,” and, “We have a dog park?” Betsy Burgeson, the Institution’s supervisor of gardens and landscapes, understands both responses.
“For the first two years I was (at the Institution), I didn’t even know it existed,” Burgeson said. “Somebody asked me, ‘Are you guys ever going to touch the dog park?’ and I was like, ‘What dog park?’ I didn’t even know it was here.”
Burgeson said she believes the park was built around 2009, from a donation by the Chautauqua Property Owners Association. Located next to Turner Community Center behind the Chautauqua Tennis Center, the small, fenced-in area is easy to miss. Overgrown grass and tall plants poke through the chain-link fence, and inside there isn’t much more than packed-down dirt and scattered patches of grass and clover.
As soon as the park was brought to her attention, Burgeson understood the need for improvements.
“We realized that it wasn’t doing what it needed to be doing for both the humans (and) the dogs,” she said. “So we wanted to make it a better place overall, with a little bit more pet-friendly surfacing.”
Burgeson said her first priority was removing the layers of mulch that had built up over years of use.
“Year after year, they had been adding mulch, so it had gotten so high in there that in some places (on) this 5-foot fence (the mulch) was only 2 feet from the top,” Burgeson said. “We had to wait until it was dry enough to get our equipment in there.”
Burgeson and her team had hoped to renovate the park in time for the start of this season, but the weather had other plans.
“Last fall, we got all our equipment stuck because it was so wet and we thought, ‘We’ll hold off until spring,’ ” she said. “And what do you know? The spring was just as wet.”
Burgeson has a number of ideas in motion to make the park more enjoyable for owners and more enriching for their dogs by next season. Besides the park’s original mulch surface, she plans to add grass areas and a gravel path. The addition of a flagstone patio area for the park’s memorial benches will provide owners with a place to sit. She said that currently, dogs visiting the park don’t have much to do besides sniff along the fence line. The addition of logs and boulders will give them new things to explore.
“We have three large trunks of an ash tree that have been sitting outside the Turner lot by the bus garage area for a year now, waiting to move over to the dog park,” Burgeson said. “Hopefully, they will be in their new home soon.”
In her research, Burgeson found that one of the biggest issues facing dog parks is the question of how to provide shade in the area, where any trees are guaranteed to be used as marking posts.
“You put a tree in, and all dogs want to pee on (it),” she said. “Dogs just ruin the trees (by) going on them.”
To combat this, Burgeson has planted two multi-stemmed river birches in large planters she will place inside the park. River birches grow quickly and are known to survive out of the ground in large containers.
“It’s something that the dogs can relieve themselves on, and it won’t harm the trees at all,” she said. “This will be a neat little trial to see if the trees in these pots provide some shade over the next few years, … or if there’s other ways to do it.”
Burgeson also hopes to plant tulip trees and maple trees outside the fence for additional coverage.
“We’re trying to restore some shade and provide more fun spaces for the dogs, while creating a little bit better of an atmosphere for the humans, as well,” she said.
Another issue Burgeson has come across is the park’s lack of water access. Currently, the only water supply comes from an Igloo cooler by the gate, the origins of which are a bit of a mystery.
“Nobody is really sure who actually fills up the little cooler of water,” she said.
Burgeson is looking into running a hose underground from the nearby tennis shed to the park. She said that her team will start work in September, and is optimistic about progress this off-season; she’s excited to see how dogs and their Chautauquans react to the park next season.
“Hopefully you’ll see the improvement,” she said. “Well, compared to this year, the only place we can go is up.”