Description: This jewel of an Off Leash Area (OLA) comprises 15 acres in a woodland landscape, with open fields, shady trails and a large pond. It opened in September 2007, and is owned by the city of Lansing but maintained cooperatively with the Ingham County Parks Department. The park is enclosed by a six-foot fence, and has permeable, sandy soil and easy access to the pond, which is its central feature.
History: What’s unusual about this park is how it started. According to Ellen Sullivan, past president of the Friends of Greater Lansing Dog Parks (Friends), the idea came from thenparks department director Murdock Jemerson. After attending a recreation conference in early 2001 at which dog parks were a hot topic, he tested community interest for them in Lansing. The possibility was eagerly greeted by local dog lovers, and more than 100 people attended the first meeting. It received overwhelming support, and volunteer committees were quickly formed; a more formal Friends group came soon after. It took six years to bring the park into existence.
Financing: To help raise the $100,000 needed for the park’s development, the Friends group established itself as a 501c(3) nonprofit. Extremely well organized, the group developed annual strategic plans and was able to raise significant capital through many inventive fundraising approaches— among them, offering naming rights to the individual or business making the most substantial donation. Those rights went to a local store, Soldan’s Feed and Pet Supplies, which pledged $50,000. Other donors and sponsors came in at various levels, and their names are enshrined on the park’s sponsor board.
Hurdle: Getting the city council to change the ordinance that required dogs to be on-leash in city parks. According to Sullivan, “that took over a year in itself.” Ultimately, the law was amended to permit dogs to be off-leash in designated dog parks. Neighbors also mounted roadblocks. When the park first opened it had 17.5 acres, but after a few complaints, it was downsized to 15, sacrificing a full loop trail and a small-dog area.
Stand-out Feature: In 2010, Soldan adopted a fee-based use system, an approach that many communities, especially in the wake of the recession, have considered but few have implemented. Income from this system has helped defray operational costs such as the purchase of poop bags and portable restrooms, and routine park maintenance. To receive the electronic pass card, owners must provide proof that their dogs are current on their rabies vaccination and are licensed; they are also required to verify that they have read the park’s rules and will abide by them. The annual “key fob” fee is $30, or $15 for students, seniors, military and service-dog owners.
Rules & Regs: Park manager Brian Collins told us that, as is common with many OLAs, “Once the park was established, the Friends group became less involved in the day-to-day operations.” However, the original volunteer community built a strong foundation and provided useful guidelines and rules that are still in use. In fact, their “Getting Ready for the Dog Park” handout—covering (among other things) where to play fetch and cautions against crowding around entrance areas—is one of the most thorough instructional guides we have seen.
What’s Next: Under discussion are improvements such as a ramp for water-loving dogs, a bridge or “floating walkway” to create a loop within the park, trail lighting and paving. Carole Living, long-time park user and supporter, believes that this park “is a place where dogs can run free, swim all they want, investigate all the exotic scents and just be a natural dog. It enriches all our lives.” She also thinks a new user campaign to spread the word should be considered; Lansing is a college town with a high population turnover, and reminders that Soldan Dog Park beckons are needed!