Along with their human best friends and people who just adore wet noses and wagging tails, dogs in Jacksonville, Illinois, will soon have a place for off-leash romping and socializing. A seven-acre parcel of city land on Jacksonville’s southeast side is being transformed into a dog park, designed by U. of I. students in the landscape architecture and the recreation, sport and tourism programs.
Construction is expected to begin this fall on the park, tentatively called the Jacksonville PetSafe Dog Park.
For U. of I. senior Farzan Rostam-Abadi, from Champaign, IL, whose academic focus is tourism, working on the project during her junior year at Illinois “was a really amazing experience that enabled me to learn a lot about things outside my major, such as park planning.”
Although the Illinois students competed against professional design firms for the project, they got a leg up on the competition with their extensive research, providing “more than a blueprint of a park,” said Lara Browning, who coordinated the team’s work. “They provided a whole report and the thought process behind their concepts.”
Browning is a lecturer in recreation, sport and tourism and a landscape architecture specialist with the department’s service unit, the Office of Recreation and Park Resources. ORPR’s director, Robin Hall, and its community services and education coordinator, Jarrod Scheunemann, also worked on the project.
ORPR Team Members, from left: Lara Browning, Jarrod Scheunemann, Kerri Schiller, Robin Hall, Yexuan Gu, Zelda, Jing Wang, and Farzan Rostam-Abadi.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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Rostam-Abadi and Kerri Schiller, a graduate student in the same department, conducted the background research and budgeting.
Alumni Yexwan Gu and Jing Wang, then graduate students in landscape architecture, created two design concepts – a contemporary design that included amenities such as a sponsorship seating area and high-end agility equipment, and a natural design with rustic hiking trails and native prairie grasses.
Jacksonville officials and members of the Bark Park Initiative, the group organizing the fundraising and outreach efforts, decided to combine elements of both concepts – such as the prairie grasses and the sponsorship seating – into the final master plan.
“Everyone was really impressed with the work the students did,” said alderman Steve Warmowski, who chairs the Jacksonville Park Foundation and organizes its Bark Park Initiative. “They came up with some ideas that hadn’t occurred to us, such as putting a recreational trail around the park and installing benches outside it. The students found that people who don’t own dogs like to go to dog parks to walk or sit and watch the dogs run around. We thought: ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting. We didn’t even think about that.’”
The first phase of construction is funded with a $100,000 grant that Jacksonville residents won in the PetSafe Bark for Your Park online contest last year.
While the cost of fencing is expected to consume most of those funds, the Illinois team’s concept drawings will help with fundraising, and they suggested other grants that organizers can pursue, Browning said.
As funds become available, organizers plan to add a boardwalk, pavilions, a splash pad and a path connecting the dog park with neighboring Nichols Park.
“The landscape architecture students have been really excited to see something that they’ve come up with come to fruition,” Scheunemann said. “It’s been really cool to see the RST students come up with some best practices and ideas for the park, and incorporate play areas for both people and dogs.”
Rostam-Abadi said Jacksonville residents’ enthusiasm for the dog park was inspiring, and the experience has piqued her interest in working on similar projects. “You don’t think about how parks can really bring people together and get them genuinely excited. That’s not something you see in classes. It was really cool to be a part of that.”