Shawnee Mission Park Off-Leash Area

Room to Run in Shawnee, Kansas
By Claudia Kawczynska, June 2015

Shawnee Mission Park is the largest in eastern Kansas (and one of the most visited in the state); at 1,600 acres, it’s more than twice the size of NYC’s Central Park. A multi-use recreational space, it provides room for diverse activities such as disc golf, archery, fishing (the lake is stocked) and lots of hiking and bike riding. And, oh yes, a 53-acre off-leash dog area.

The OLA is, of course, what grabbed my interest. It’s one of the largest in the nation, and so for size alone, it deserves attention in this column. But wait! It gets better. Not only do dog lovers have an ample trail-laced area for their own exercise, there’s also plenty of space for their dogs to frolic and romp. All that, plus a cove with access to a 120-acre lake to practice dog paddling and ball diving. On a hot summer day in Kansas, that must be a welcome relief to both wading humans and their dogs.

According to superintendent of parks Bill Maasen, Shawnee Mission Park was created by a bond initiative and opened in 1964. The off-leash dog area was developed roughly 15 years ago, at a time when dog parks were springing up across the land. Typical of many large OLAs, it is not fully fenced, so a good recall is must here, something that’s often mentioned in the rave online reviews. (Smaller dog parks and dog runs generally are fully fenced, but—depending on their location and proximity to roads—larger OLAs seldom are. As in this particular park, fencing tends to be concentrated near roadways and parking areas.)

The landscape includes prairie and woodland, and because it’s bordered by dense woods, there are sightings of deer aplenty. OLA-goers need to be watchful of their dogs and follow the rules, including the requirement that “dogs must be under the control and in view of their handler at all times.” A wise choice.

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Maasen explained that they are undertaking improvements soon, including expanding the often-overflowing parking area by many new spaces and installing safer gates so dogs won’t be able to push them open and run out to the road. They also have a large accessibility project coming up that will provide more stable paving for the quarter-mile walkway to the lake, improving its navigability for those who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices.

As for the lakeshore itself, instead of sand or dirt, pavers are used in what is called keystone construction: they “lock” together like Lego tiles, with pea gravel in between. The hard surface makes it easier to keep a wet dog clean after a dip and protects paws from hot sand.

Being inured to a region where park users have to beg for any kind of maintenance whatsoever at our OLA, I’m blown away by the fact that the Shawnee one closes on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 am for weekly park maintenance. Other than that, the OLA has generous opening times: summer hours are from 5 am to 11 pm, with minor adjustments in winter.

Reviewing this Kansas landmark tempts me to take a “Pete Campbell” plunge. In one of the series’ final episodes, the Mad Men character was poised to trade an office on Madison Ave. for one in Wichita. For him, the carrot was access to a Learjet. For me, it would be to have a park with a management philosophy that recognizes the importance of providing generous open space for both us and our dogs, operated by people who see the wisdom of meeting the needs of this important constituency.

To paraphrase another famous Kansan, “Toto, I have a feeling we are in Kansas,” and it feels good. 

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.