The problems at Maria Hernandez Dog Run are not lost on anyone. When we asked dog owners across the city to grade their local dog runs, Jude Banks complained that Maria Hernandez was “not paw-safe gravel, gross standing water and gross gravel in general. My dog consistently tears up her feet there.” In addition to the gravel, Katharine Overgaard said, “the mesh which lines the dog run surface, below the terrible gravel, is constantly tearing and peeling up, and is generally not well designed or maintained.” Shannon Postrion said there are drainage issues that cause flooding every time it rains. Even Willard gave the dog run an overall grade of a C- in its current condition, though she gave the dog owner community an A, and the volunteers an A+.
There are about 10 core volunteers who help her, but Willard, who works in digital marketing and social media management during the day, spends much of her free time focused on the park, whether she’s physically there or not.
“My nights and weekends are spent researching grant opportunities, coming up with fundraiser ideas,” she said. “It’s been a challenge to keep the community involved … because people move in, they move out, it’s pretty transient. So it’s kind of fallen on my shoulders to really research, get things done, keep people motivated, update our Instagram. I built out our website. I go to all of our community board meetings, to just show our community board that I’m present and I’m here and I’m trying. It’s a lot of hours.”
But it’s worth it, Willard said, because she takes a larger, holistic view of the role of dog runs in the city’s ecosystem: If these spaces are clean and safe enough that people feel comfortable bringing their dogs, they won’t use ball fields, courts and park space dedicated to humans. If the dog-friendly areas are better utilized, “then the longevity of the fields and grass in parks is extended, which could save the city a significant amount of funds, and re-allocate those saved funds to playgrounds, comfort stations, etc.”
A Thankless Job
Many other overworked dog run volunteers offered similar stories about their frustrations trying to keep their park in shape. Karyn Fender said that the Murray Playground Dog Run in Long Island City was never properly surfaced, so volunteers are constantly monitoring it.
“The park is littered with broken bricks, sharp rocks and broken ceramic,” she said. “Those of us that utilize the park have rakes and shovels in the park to dig these up each time it rains and more become exposed, but it is nearly impossible to keep up with. Not to mention it then creates a hole, which is an ankle injury waiting to happen. I have seen countless falls by dog owners in this park from tripping on rocks, tree roots and holes.”
“From a maintenance perspective, the city does not maintain anything inside the fencing, it is up to the local community,” Fender added. “This makes sense from a general ‘pick up after your dog’ point of view, but how exactly am I supposed to resurface an entire park?”