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SUNDAY, JANUARY 21, 2007
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Jill Stofel walks her boxer, Bono, in front of the Old State Bank. Her husband gave her the dog for Christmas seven years ago so she would have a walking partner, and Bono makes sure they get their daily exercise.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Jill Stofel walks her boxer, Bono, in front of the Old State Bank. Her husband gave her the dog for Christmas seven years ago so she would have a walking partner, and Bono makes sure they get their daily exercise.

Is your
hound round?

Start dog-ercizing at local trails, parks

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com· 340-2446

Your dog probably resents the dreary winter days you spend as a couch potato.

Temperatures hovering around freezing and plenty of rain may limit the outdoor “dog-ercize” for you and your four-legged best friend.

You can ward off the winter blues for you both by taking advantage of any fair-weather days to plan a special outing with your furry pal.

Where can you go beyond your own neighborhood?

There are lots of places in the Tennessee Valley where you and your dog can romp and explore, including trails and scenic areas around rivers and creeks in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and Bankhead National Forest.

All 21 city parks in Decatur, encompassing a thousand acres, are open to dogs, said Parks and Recreation director Jeff Dunlap. The city asks that you keep your pet on a leash and avoid areas where people are congregating, such as ball parks and playgrounds.

Be sure to take along your “pooperscooper” and supplies needed to clean up after your canine.

A dog park?

Cameron Weeks, 5, with his new mixed-breed puppy, Bear, around Rhodes Ferry Park on Jan. 14, his first day as a dog owner. He could walk Bear on a leash at Decatur city parks, find an area trail or head to Huntsville Botanical Garden for the Dog Days of Winter and “Bow-Wow Bone-anza.”
Daily photo by John Godbey
Cameron Weeks, 5, with his new mixed-breed puppy, Bear, around Rhodes Ferry Park on Jan. 14, his first day as a dog owner. He could walk Bear on a leash at Decatur city parks, find an area trail or head to Huntsville Botanical Garden for the Dog Days of Winter and “Bow-Wow Bone-anza.”
The “dog park” idea is growing in popularity across the country as pet owners seek spaces where their dogs can play unleashed, and Decatur could join other cities with this concept. “We’ve talked about creating such an area,” said Dunlap. “We probably will have to find a new location, rather than take some existing park property.”

Some cities make their parks off-limits to dogs, but Decatur asks only that they not be in the newly restored rose garden portion of Delano Park, at the golf course at Point Mallard or in populated ball field areas. The new Splash Pad at Delano Park is fenced, he said, so that helps when dogs are being walked nearby.

“For a dog, it doesn’t get much better than the Point Mallard walking trail,” he said. The Tennessee River is adjacent.

Dunlap has looked at catalog items that could be installed to hold plastic bags or other supplies in parks so owners could pick up after their dogs. “Right now we just don’t have that big of a problem — people seem to be taking care of it.”

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge has several trails and boardwalks, and your dog is welcome on all of them — just not inside the wildlife observation building behind the Visitor Center just off Alabama 67 in Decatur, where trail maps are available.

‘Dog Days of Winter’

Bloodhound EmmaLou Belle cocks her head quizzically when she and her master, Alan Royer, encounter a photographer during a stroll along Fourth Avenue Southeast. Some cities have dog parks where dogs can go to romp unleashed.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Bloodhound EmmaLou Belle cocks her head quizzically when she and her master, Alan Royer, encounter a photographer during a stroll along Fourth Avenue Southeast. Some cities have dog parks where dogs can go to romp unleashed.
While no dog parks have been identified in the Tennessee Valley, the Huntsville Botanical Garden is using the idea in January and February for its “Dog Days of Winter.” While children’s activities often are emphasized in summer months, the cold months are designated as a time you can bring your dog to walk along the Dogwood Trail and outer garden loop (perhaps there’s a need for cheap fertilizer for spring plant beds).

“Bring a Frisbee, stick, ball or special toy for your pet to enjoy while playing in this ‘no-leash’ zone in the back of the garden,” said garden spokesman John Hacker. It’s free for dogs and people with annual memberships, but non-members must pay the garden winter admission fee ($8 for adults, $6 for seniors and military and $3 for ages 3 to 18).

‘Bow-Wow Bone-anza’

“Dog Days of Winter” are under way now and continue through the end of February, complete with a “Bow-Wow Bone-anza” canine carnival on Feb. 3 at the garden at 4747 Bob Wallace Ave.

This second annual event, similar to “Walk Your Paws” held in Decatur each autumn, will include agility demonstrations, dog and master look-alike contest, puppy treats, pet product vendors and pet photographer. Call 830-4447.

Auburn, Birmingham

Web sites such as www.dogpark.com, www.thedogpark.com and www.ilovethisplace.com/dogfun list only two dog parks in Alabama: Rhodes Park on Highland Avenue in Birmingham, which has no fence, and Kiesel Park in Auburn, which is fenced and offers streams, ponds, trails and water.

In larger cities from California to Massachusetts, you can find parks and beaches where dogs are welcome. Smaller cities are joining the trend, such as in Connecticut, where Wethersfield Dog Park held a “leash-cutting” at its grand opening ceremony, Hamden Dog Park was opened by the Hamden Parks and Recreation Department, Ridgefield got a community Bark Park and Norwich a Pawsitive Park.

Diane Blackman of Dog Play said dog parks encourage more interaction between people and the dogs they’ve chosen, as well as helping dogs learn manners and social skills around other animals.

In “unleashed” dog parks, owners should keep leashes handy in case they are needed quickly.

Other proponents of dog parks cite the pluses: they are low-cost places with low impact on the environment that help people and pets meet fitness needs.

Where to romp with your dog

  • Decatur city parks (except the Delano Park rose garden, near crowded playgrounds and ball parks, and Point Mallard golf course)
  • Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge nature trails to the observation building near Visitor Center off Alabama 67; Atkeson Trail through the cypress swamp near Visitor Center; Flint Creek Trail across Alabama 67; Dancy Bottom Trail along Flint Creek off Red Bank Road; Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk off I-565 and others
  • Huntsville Botanical Garden’s “Dog Days of Winter” leash-free zone through February and “Bow-Wow Bone-anza” Feb. 3
  • Dog parks established in Birmingham, Auburn and other cities
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