Smile Politely

Year of the Park, Special Assessment: Dog Parks

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and July 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at


Urbana Dog Park + Champaign Bark District 


1501 E. Perkins Rd., Urbana + 5001 Windsor Rd., Champaign 

an open field with many dogs and two people attending to them

Photo from Champaign Park District website. 


One million years ago, just before the Pandemic of 2020 hit, the Smile Politely editorial board wrote and published an article about the need for both Champaign and Urbana Park Districts to consider the idea of broadening the scope of what they are currently offering our four-legged furry friends and their owners as far as outdoor recreation is concerned. 

You can read that article again, right here. Click it, or touch it with your finger as you do! 

That consideration remains true today, and honestly, as we’ve spent so much time this year discussing the value of being outdoors, and how valuable our park districts are to us, it is again time for me to state, clearly and for the record, that our neighborhood parks need their own dog parks, or at the least, fenced dog runs. This needs to happen in 2021, and not any time later.

a small brown dog laying on a floor looks out of a window

Photo by Julie McClure. This is Stitch. Stitch would like to be walked to Powell Park. There is plenty of room there for a small fenced in area for him to run around with other dogs. Sadly, there’s no neighborhood parks for dogs to run free, while spending an afternoon on mushrooms listening to old Jethro Tull albums and thinking about “life.” 

This would not be hard to execute. I will not hear arguments to the contrary. Sorry, this court has adjourned. This very simple and basic step of progress would provide literally tens of thousands of people in our fair cities a better reason to get outside and enjoy the parks closest to them. This sort of programming is not only essential, it is paramount to thoughtful growth as far as the “livability” of our cities. And in case you wear rose-colored glasses to bed, and put on a new pair when you wake up, it is “livability” that is about the only thing we can add to our cabinet of “reasons to actually live here.”

Consider this! If I am moving to Champaign-Urbana, and I am a dog owner, and I am told that the houses I am looking at are within walking distance to dog parks in neighborhoods, I am deeply impressed. I am excited about what that would mean for me and my dog. It will provide me a reason to exercise my body, and give me a chance to meet new people when I arrive. 

a black and white puppy stares directly into the camera in a backyard

Photo by Jessica Hammie. This lil new pup is M’Baku! Boy oh boy would he love to run around with some of the older doggs and learn some new tricks from friends at Eisner Park, but alas, he is currently standing in his backyard, staring into the abyss, wondering why he was brought into this godforsaken world. 

At present, if I am looking to move to Champaign-Urbana, I am being told that the only places for my dog and I to go play together unleashed is basically outside of town, next to a waste water treatment plant, in an open field, with very little to offer, except decent sunsets. No! This is not impressive at all, and in fact, sort of embarrassing. It’s probably not going to stop me from moving here, but it isn’t going to be something I tell my favorite Aunt Rita, or my current neighbor, “Angry” John Clavidious, about the reasons I am moving here. I will mention Custard Cup, and Krannert Center, but I will not talk about how Fido is gonna have it made. 

At present, we are not up to date with trends in American culture. 

Fact: your neighbor has an IG account for their dog. You might even have one. And while that is ridiculous, and sort of off-putting, I am OK with it, honestly, and would never tell you that to your face. There’s a lot of things about me that are both ridiculous and off-putting, and frankly, I don’t want to hear your judgments of me. Please just do the normal thing, and talk shit about me behind my back. Thank you. 

a small brown, black, and white dog looks into the camera in a living room

Photo by Anna Longworth. Here is a good boy named Patchie. He is very excited about going to Robeson Park to play with his friends, but when his parents told him that’s not possible, he pooped in the basement and didn’t eat for two days. 

Look, this is not me saying that the current pay-to-play dog parks on the very very very outskirts our our cities aren’t of any value. They are. But to be clear, where my family lives, it was literally a 30-40 minute round trip in a car to get there, and come home, from either spot, when we had a dog. 

That dog, Catuli, who is pictured above as a puppy, is as dead as a doornail now. She is buried in my backyard. She lived a very nice 14.5 years, before we had to put her down earlier this year. We have a decent sized yard that we fenced in for her benefit when we moved here, but Spalding Park, which is just down the block, would have been an optimal spot for us to take her all the year long, and meet up with other folks in the neighborhood.

This neighborhood, in particular, needs those kinds of things to, you know, build better community. That is the primary role of a park district, when you think about it. And while I realize Spalding is up for reconstruction soon, and while it does have some nice, unique amenities, there is a grove of old growth trees inside of it that is essentially useless at the moment. Put up a fence, and invite the people to bring their dogs to this spot. Watch what happens. What? You think it’s not going to be used?

It will be. 

Same goes for dozens of other spots in both cities: adjust the budgets; make it free for the public to utilize. This is not a recommendation. With respect, and in the nicest possible tone of voice through internet writing, this is a gentle command. Do it, please. This should not be hard, and it is not all that radical of an idea. 

After all, I am here to help. Nothing more. 

Top image by Justine Fein-Bursoni. Catuli would have loved to be walked to West Side Park to play with some friends. But she is dead now, and never got a chance to do that.  

Related Articles