Santa Cruz Dog Parks Aren't Just for Dogs

Here are the best local dog parks for dogs—and people.

The women would gather every day in a small but welcoming circle at . Once strangers, they created an intimate space in the hard-scrabble yard surrounded by a chain-link fence.

We all have experienced loneliness and isolation at times, but the women of the circle shared the common hardships of growing older—their husbands had died, children had moved away, or they had retired.

They left silent homes to laugh and share with each other at the dog park in the “small dog” pen.

Some did not even have dogs, because their rental space did not allow pets, but they could satisfy their touch-hunger by cuddling the other women’s pooches. Several were pug ladies.

In earlier times in America, we had many ways to connect with others—Friday night town dances, welcoming porches where neighbors could stop by on an evening stroll and downtown squares where you could sit a spell and catch up on all the local gossip.

Much has been lost, but many dog-owners have found new ways to connect at dog parks. Meeting strangers can sometimes be awkward, but dogs can be natural conversation starters, with questions like these: “What kind of dog is that?” “Male or female?” “What’s her name?”  “How old is he?”

One day the circle was broken when Jean, the loyal ‘49ers
fan who greeted everyone with a ready smile and a laugh, became gravely ill and was rushed to the hospital. The women immediately went into action—one sitting by her bedside and another fostering her pugs at her own home before Jean's family arrived in her dying days.

The Scotts Valley Dog Park was created as a place for dogs to socialize, but it became so much more, providing opportunities for people to connect with shade, seating and a billboard.

How do some of our local parks rate for dogs and people?

Scotts Valley Dog Park

Pro: It's large, with water sources and plastic pools for dogs. There is shade cover, small- and large-dog sides, and it is busy.

Con: Dogs have to walk on dirt and old chips.

Aptos Dog Park

Pro: Large, a lot of water, and busy.

Con: The small-dog side needs a bench and more shade. Dogs walk on dirt and old chips.

Watsonville Dog Park

Pro: It is shady on the small side, with benches. It's also located at the second entrance to Pinto Lake Park, which is beautiful, big and green.

Con: There is no visible sign on Green Valley Road or at the park; the big-dog side is hot with dried weeds in the summer; and very few people go there or know it exists.

My pick for best dog park in the County?

Pro: There's access to the yacht harbor. The lack of fences keeps the
crazy dogs out. There is no dog fountain, but owners share with all the dogs. There's a shady and velvety knoll where you can lie on your back with your dog and look up through the oaks. It's large, grassy and green.

Con: Neighborhood parking is hard to come by.

If you want to find a near-perfect dog park, you will need to go over the hill to the Los Gatos Creek County Dog Park, which “is wildly popular,” according to Tamara Clark-Shear, public information officer for the city of Campbell, which manages the park for Santa Clara County.

“Since we’ve installed K-9 Artificial Turf, we’ve had nothing but compliments," said Clark-Shear. "You can’t see wear and tear anymore. When we used bark, we had complaints about things getting in dogs’ paws, dogs losing their balance and hurting their ankles, and dogs getting filthy.”

Clark-Shear said that even though the turf was costly, “In the long-run, it’s worthwhile, because it saves money.” The dog park includes decomposed granite pathways, logs and boulders for dogs to play on, public art and mature trees. Check out the attached pictures.

Traveling? Download “Dog Park Finder” on iTunes, which lists more than 2,700 dog parks.

Dave Robbins October 13, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Oh for the days of Lighthouse Field...


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