A mover and shaker on dog parks

City Hall intern plays key role on Dog Grounds project

At the recent groundbreaking ceremony for the new Loring Park Dog Grounds, political leaders and neighborhood organizers stood before a small crowd that included almost as many pooches as people and lauded the efforts of those who helped make the dog park a reality.

They touted pooper-scoopers, threw tiny dog treats into the air as a form of celebratory confetti, and tried to get at least a few dogs to put on miniature hard hats. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom (4th District) even let out a long, yelping bark to celebrate the dog park.

Through most of the fanfare, one of the key players in pulling the project together quietly smiled from his place toward the back of the crowd. After working for more than a year to make Downtown dog parks a reality as part of an internship with Council Member Lisa Goodman’s office, Dan Schned said his emotions wavered between elation and relief at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“Originally, I was hired to build four dog parks in three months. And in a year, I’m going to build one. That shows how everyone underestimated what this project was going to entail,” Schned said.

The yearlong project has done nothing to diminish the enthusiasm the 24-year-old Elliot Park resident – who laughs and admits it’s somewhat true when asked if he’s known as the “dog park intern” in City Hall – has for Downtown dog parks. He admits he can go on and on about how dog parks will reduce the amount of pet waste in city streets and how having more dog owners’ eyes in the parks will serve as a crime deterrent. Even as he worked to set up for the groundbreaking ceremony, he didn’t miss the opportunity to promote the site to a man walking his dog through the park.

“Have you heard about Dog Grounds?” Schned asked Loring Park resident Rick Obermayr, greeting him warmly with a smile.

Obermayr admitted he hadn’t, but he said it’s definitely something he would use as a way to let his dog – a black Lab mix named Nelly – play with other pooches.

“They will love it. They like to socialize just like us,” Obermayr said.

A 2005 Macalester College graduate with a degree in urban planning, Schned met Goodman during an internship he had in the city’s Planning Department. When that was complete, he joined Goodman’s office to largely work on getting several Downtown dog parks off the ground.

“When I first started, it wasn’t really clear to me what this project was about. I thought, like I think many people do, that dog parks are just posh things for the privileged. I’ve come to see it as a citywide improvement project. … I think, if anything, [the Loring Park Dog Grounds] will be overused this summer and we’ll see a lot of people calling for more dog parks,” said Schned, who estimates he worked an average of 18-20 hours a week in Goodman’s office.

To help get the dog parks up and running, Schned worked to create what he calls a “bark board,” which is a nonprofit organization that works in cooperation with the Park Board to organize efforts around the dog parks and help run them. The organization is named Dog Grounds, and a board of directors oversees its functions. (Note: The Downtown Journal is a sponsor of Dog Grounds and Janis Hall, the newspaper’s publisher, serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors.)

“What I envision happening would be initially this bark board will build these parks and then create a community forum for dog owners around those parks to create groups and govern themselves. So we’re just going to facilitate dog owners in the area to self-govern,” Schned said.

He originally planned to help get dog parks off the ground in the Loring Park, Elliot Park, North Loop and Downtown East/West neighborhoods. But in an urban area where space is tight and land fetches a premium price, Schned said the process of finding a space in each neighborhood for a dog park and working through the obstacles each site presented took much longer than he originally anticipated.

The original site proposed for a dog park in the Downtown West neighborhood didn’t exactly make neighbors howl with joy, so plans for a dog park in that neighborhood are on hold and likely won’t pick up again until the three others are completed.

Progress on the North Loop dog park, which Schned originally anticipated would be the first to break ground on a piece of land donated by Downtown developer Schafer Richardson, slowed after concerns surfaced with the initial plans to build a temporary dog park that would later be moved to a permanent site. Organizers are still working with the developer to find a permanent location for the North Loop dog park.

Putting a dog park in Elliot Park required the cooperation of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which owns the land where the park will sit, but Schned said the details of that park are close to being worked out. He anticipates that park will be the second Downtown dog park to open.

The first, of course, is the dog park located in the northwestern corner of Loring Park, in a 10,000 square-foot grassy area between Joe’s Garage and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Construction on the Loring Park Dog Grounds began May 21, and it’s slated for completion by early-to-mid June. The area will be enclosed with a fence, feature a water fountain for dogs and include a number of large limestone rocks where pet owners can sit while watching their dog play or that canines can use as climbing apparatuses. A steel bridge that doesn’t go over or attach to anything – and is appropriately named The Bridge to Erehwon, which is “nowhere” spelled backward – will also be placed in the park for the climbing pleasure of active pooches.

The total cost of the project is about $100,000, Schned said, all of which is covered by private donations. The Park Board donated the piece of land in the northwestern corner of Loring Park that will be used for the new dog grounds.

Just as the Loring Park Dog Grounds is nearing an opening date, Schned’s internship with Goodman’s office is winding down. The summer internship morphed into a yearlong project and Schned may parlay that into a position working with Dog Grounds.

“More than anything, I really just want to follow up. I want three dog parks in the city,” Schned said. “I can’t walk away until there are three dog parks. How could I? There have been so many obstacles, so many delays.”

Schned said other council members, including Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) and Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward), have also mentioned to him in passing that they may have a good location in their ward for a dog park.

“Everybody wants one,” Goodman said, noting that there are currently only four dog parks and thousands of dogs in the city. That lack of outdoor space for pet owners and the need for community organizing around a common issue is what drove the dog park project, Goodman said, noting that numerous volunteers in addition to Schned helped make the project a reality.

“While Dan has been the glue that has held the group together, there have been hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours that have gone into the project,” Goodman said.

She acknowledges, though, that without the consistent efforts Schned put into the project over the last year, it would not have become a reality.

“If Dan wasn’t doing it and we didn’t have someone dedicated to doing it, it would not have happened,” Goodman said. “I would not have had the time.”

Reach Kari VanDerVeen at [email protected] or 436-4373.