Palo Alto's newest park project will give local dog owners a reason to cheer while offering their companions more room to roam.
The city is moving ahead with a plan to expand the existing dog park at Mitchell Park and to add a separate fenced-in enclosure for small dogs. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council are scheduled to formally approve the project in the coming months, paving the way for the expansion to be completed by the beginning of 2023.
The Mitchell Park project is part of a recent push by the city to open more dog parks, a key goal in the parks master plan that the council approved in 2017. The parks plan envisions six dedicated dog parks. Since the plan's adoption, the city has opened a new dog park at Peers Park, which at 0.84 acres is now the largest such amenity in the city.
Once completed, the Mitchell Park dog area would snag that designation. The current dog park, which is 0.54 acres in size, would become 0.82 acres. The plan also calls for adding a separate 0.1-acre enclosure specifically for small dogs. The two enclosures would be separated by a hilly recreation area with picnic tables.
The project also includes an addition of benches near both parks, an upgraded irrigation system to maintain the grass in the expanded dog park area and a replacement of the grass on the hilltop between the parks with a "no mow" variety to reduce maintenance. The larger dog park would be moved farther away from Adobe Creek to maintain a 10-foot easement.
The city's Parks and Recreation Commission tentatively endorsed the project last week, even as some members recommended minor revisions to increase the number of trees between the dog park and the creek.
Commissioner Amanda Brown, a dog owner who serves as the commission's liaison for dog parks, said during the June 28 review that she believes the project accomplishes many goals, including expanding dog park access, reducing water use and cutting down on maintenance costs.
She also lauded the idea of creating a special space for smaller dogs, some of whom may be intimidated by the existing park. The Peers Park dog park also has a designated space for smaller dogs that is separated from the main play area by a chain-link fence.
"Having the small dog next to large dog areas is great for some dogs, but there's also a lot of yapping that goes between the chain-link fences," Brown said. "I think this is a great plus for the community to have separate spaces where those dogs can feel safe and play."
Peter Jensen, landscape architect with the Public Works Department, concurred and suggested that small dogs "can get a little bit overwhelmed in a larger dog park area." He called the Mitchell Park project a "low-hanging fruit" when it comes to adding dog amenities.
"We have a large facility already that has the opportunity to be expanded for more dog users," Jensen said. "Just to help expand the system, we felt this was a good direction to go. We will definitely still be working to find places to either have more dog parks or off-leash pilot programs in other parks in the future."
The city has been discussing ways to create more dog parks in Palo Alto for more than a decade. Aside from the facilities at Peers and Mitchell parks, the city's only two dog parks are the 0.06-acre enclosure at Greer Park and a 0.14-acre one at Hoover Park. The city also plans to add a dog park on Boulware Park, which is slated to be expanded next spring.
Commissioner Shani Kleinhaus argued that as the city creates new recreational amenities, it should also do whatever it can to enhance natural ecosystems at local parks. She suggested that the city increase the buffer between the expanded dog area at Mitchell Park and the creek by another 10 feet to make room for additional trees.
"A dog park is a huge amenity to the community," Kleinhaus said. "People connect, talk about dogs and their children, then they become friends. I have friends from the dog park. I think it's a really important amenity.
"But providing shade near a creek in a natural area and restoring a little bit of that nature I think in this park is critical."