Dogs on the South Side shouldn’t need to drive all over the city to get out more and exercise.”
When Benjamin Gerhold tells me this in an email, it makes for a funny image—a poodle in a coupe, perhaps—but it strikes upon an issue that has long gone unaddressed. The South Side needs more dog parks, and the Bronzeville Association for Recreation with Canines, aka BARC, plans to do something about it.
Of late, it’s become a bit of a running joke that North Siders are oblivious to the South Side’s cultural offerings. But when it comes to dog parks, the discrepancy between north and south is not imagined: by and large, dog parks do not exist in most neighborhoods on the South Side. The vast majority of the Chicago Park District’s twenty-two off-leash sites are scattered across trendy neighborhoods on the North Side; the southernmost “Dog Friendly Area” (DFA) is based in the South Loop at 18th Street.
As a result, most South Siders are forced to drive their pets through traffic just to reach a dog park. “There are some people who don’t have a car,” Gerhold points out, “so their dogs never really know what it’s like [to] run free outside and don’t get to socialize with other dogs very often.”
It’s in this context that BARC was formed late last year, with the express intent of bringing a dog park to Bronzeville. The actual site proposed for this park remains up in the air, with five potential locales between 31st Street and 49th Street currently being vetted. Although BARC is in its infancy (or puppyhood), the public meetings and dog picture–filled Facebook page run by the group are seeing increasing enthusiasm and outreach from Bronzeville locals.
BARC, nonetheless, is not the only group trying to change the opportunities available for dogs on the South Side. One successful park is Jackson Bark, a beloved agility course profiled in the Weekly in 2016. Elsewhere, the Southeast Chicago Dog Park and McKinley Park Dog Park committees have each reached the preliminary planning stage to create a DFA.
But the hurdles of an agility course pale in comparison to the bureaucratic hurdles facing dog parks on the South Side. In an email, Gerhold sadly noted that Jackson Bark is “unofficial, so the Park District could shut it down tomorrow if they wanted to.” The legal route to a DFA, on the other hand, is saddled with a steep price tag from the Park District—a “minimum” of $150,000, which the “community is responsible for funding,” according to its website. In addition to gathering the necessary funds and choosing a site, BARC is responsible for getting permission from the local residents before building a DFA, which entails a minimum of three public meetings, usage surveys of the selected site over a period of one year, and a petition of support signed by at least fifty households (such that the support “significantly out-weigh[s] the opposition”).
In short, there’s a lot of work riding on the BARC team’s shoulders. But according to founding board member (and chihuahua owner) Marc Loveless, the support for the team has been “amazing, just amazing.” As he and his neighbors see it, dog parks have a “good impact, a positive impact on community living. [They] bring neighbors together.”
This is a view shared by Aldermen Pat Dowell and Sophia King of the 3rd and 4th Wards, who have encouraged BARC’s efforts. Loveless isn’t worried that this momentum will wane in the event that King is voted out in the February 28th aldermanic race. “The one candidate that wasn’t very supportive ended up dropping out of the race, so I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” he jokes.
The path to a dog park in Bronzeville might not be easy—but as anyone with a mutt at home can tell you, making dogs happy is its own reward. In Gerhold’s words, BARC is “a great way for people in the neighborhood to socialize and better get to know each other. [It’s] a great way to make Bronzeville an even better place to live.”
BARC is holding a fundraiser at DoGoneFun (1717 S. State St.) on Sunday, February 12, at 12:30pm. Dogs, of course, are welcome.
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