A seven-acre space for dogs to frolic leash-free on Cook County Forest Preserve land will open Sept. 19 off First Avenue in Maywood.
The Miller Meadow Off-Leash Dog Area Grand Opening in the 2100 block of First Avenue will feature dog-services vendors and a chance to try the park free before applying for a $55 per-dog permit for Cook County residents. Residents outside Cook County pay $110.
Riverside and Brookfield residents formed the Miller Meadow Dog Park group in 2011 to work with the CCFP to plan the space. The Park District of Oak Park and Friends of Oak Park Dogs also helped provide input.
“The land they gave us is high-quality, spectacular land,” said Susan Hamilton Casey, who was chairwoman of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board member when the process began.
“It’s beautiful,” Casey said. “I was speechless, flabbergasted when I thought about how this has actually happened.”
Miller Meadow will be the third dog park on Cook County Forest Preserve land. Two other off-leash areas exist at Bremen Grove in Tinley Park and Beck Lake in Des Plaines.
“Dog parks always have a line item in our budget,” said Forest Preserve spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis. “The people who are using it are the ones who are paying for it.”
Lukidis said keeping off leash dogs in designated areas keeps them away from forest preserve environmental restoration areas and wildlife areas with ground-nesting birds.
“The dog parks allow dogs to be off leash in areas not sensitive to restoration or wildlife efforts,” Lukidis said.
To apply for a permit online, dog owners must submit paperwork from a veterinarian certifying all vaccinations are up to date. Volunteers may also sign up online to help maintain and monitor the park.
The dog park is the first stage of a million-dollar Miller Meadow overhaul that will eventually include an eight-mile walking trail with bird-watching hill, a canoe launch, an 18-hole disc golf course and soccer fields, as well as remodeled picnic areas and a pedestrian bridge over First Avenue to the Loyola University Medical Center campus.
Along with the dog park, the walking trail and playing fields are complete, Lukidis said.
Off-leash dog parks in the region have had mixed results. A gated area in Maple Park in Oak Park is almost always completely empty, while the Forest Bark Dog Park on Circle Avenue and Lehmer Street is one of the most popular dog recreation spots in the area.
“People have gotten married who met at Forest Bark,” said Jennifer Wolfe, who was formerly on the Friends of Forest Bark board. But the park has drainage issues that turn it into a mud-pit and is considered too small for dogs to really run, she said. Some Forest Park dog owners have sought vaster off-leash space.
A proposal to fence off a few acres of the Forest Park-owned Altenheim property to create a bigger dog-run was shot down by the village council.
Four-year dream pays off
The creation of the Miller Meadow Off-Leash Dog Area has been a four-year struggle for Riverside, Brookfield, Forest Park and Oak Park dog lovers. But patience and persistence have paid off.
In June, 2011, the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board started exploring a place for off-leash dogs in Riverside. Big Ball Park and Swan Pond were being used by a stubborn contingent of dog owners, but neighbors complained about the mess and use of the tennis courts as free-range dog areas.
“We knew Riverside neighbors would never stand for a fenced area,” said Casey. “And municipalities just don’t have any money.”
Around 40 members of the Miller Meadow Dog Park group initially gathered in person, and the group carried on through social media.
In Brookfield, Laura and Peter Kazmierowicz initially clamored for free-range dog space in town for their English Setter, Afghan hound mix and Weimaraner puppy. At the same time, Oak Park dog owners were frustrated by limitations to early morning dog parks at Ridgeland Common and Lindberg Park. The Forest Preserve district invited the Park District of Oak Park to help hammer out the details.
Casey’s Jack Russell terrier passed away during the long wait for the Miller Meadow dream to come true, but she’s looking forward to adopting another dog that can use the park.
“This park has surpassed our expectations,” said Casey. “We are so happy.”