35% of Winnipeg dog park space has been lost in recent years, group says

A group of local pup-lovers says Winnipeg has lost roughly one-third of its dog park space in recent years, and they're afraid if something isn't done soon the trend could continue.

'When you look at the numbers, we've lost 21 hectares this past year,' WINDOG president says

The Winnipeg Network of Dog Owner Groups says dog park greenspace in the city has been shrinking significantly in recent years. (Amel Emric/Canadian Press)

A group of local pup-lovers says Winnipeg has lost roughly one-third of its dog park space in recent years, and they're afraid if something isn't done soon the trend could continue.

Donna Henry, president of the Winnipeg Network of Dog-owner Groups (WINDOG), said she is concerned the spaces for dogs to frolic and play in the city are shrinking.

"In the past few years, the city has lost approximately 35 per cent of its off-leash space," a statement on the WINDOG website reads.

In 1998, the city designated 11 dog parks across Winnipeg, Henry said. They remained relatively unchanged for about a decade, Henry added.

"In 2006 … Maple Grove lost about 20 of their 32 hectares," Henry said. "Their off-leash area was more than cut in half."

Little Mountain Park just northwest of the city lost over half of its off-leash space a couple of years ago, too, Henry said.

"That erosion is continuing. Charleswood [Dog Park] will be closed for the extension of the William R. Clement [Parkway]."

A significant amount of off-leash greenspace has vanished from the city in the past six months alone, according to Henry.

"We've lost the [16 hectares] at Brenda Leipsic Dog Park and [five] more at a dog park in northwest Winnipeg that's known as Sturgeon and Silver," Henry said.

The loss of that space has been nominally offset, Henry says, because the city plans to develop a few new off-leash areas, including a 0.4-hectare park in Transcona.

A second, 0.2-hectare dog park that Brian Bowman promised to create while running for mayor in 2014 is slated to take shape at The Forks or in downtown Winnipeg in 2016, Henry said.

"We're really happy to see that the city is creating more off-leash space, but when you look at the numbers we've lost [21 hectares] this [past] year and we've gained [0.6 hectares]," she said. "That's a really significant net-loss of off-leash greenspace."

The city announced it would be closing the Brenda Leipsic Dog Park in January so that construction could begin on the next leg of rapid transit development. Like the Sturgeon Road and Silver Avenue Dog Park, Brenda Leipsic is not on city-owned land.

In 2008, Henry said Manitoba Hydro leased the land to the city, at which point it was designated as a dog park.

"But now that the city wants the land for bus rapid transit, it's perfectly within it's rights to come along and close the dog park," she said.

The Parker wetlands, which is in the same area, could also be lost if Phase 2 of rapid transit plans continue to move forward, Henry said, adding hydro expects to relocate power lines in the area this month.

Both Brenda Leipsic and the park on Sturgeon are ultimately being lost because the city doesn't own and cannot restrict development on the land, Henry said.

"What we'd like to see is a stop to the shrinkage and we'd like the city to make sure when it creates dog parks that it's creating them on lands that are owned, first of all, and on lands that are designated on park lands."

Henry and her counterparts at WINDOG have called on city council to address the loss of recreational greenspace by making sure there is money set aside in this year's capital budget to develop a "comprehensive, off-leash area management plan."

"That plan would be a framework for creating dog parks in the city. It might say the city will only create dog parks on lands it owns and there would be some rationale for establishing dog parks in the city," Henry said, adding WINDOG has also put forth a model that would see a number of smaller dog parks pop up in Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

Henry said she is hopeful the city will vote to fund the new management plan.

"I believe WINDOG's voice is being heard and we are having an opportunity to influence how dog parks will be developed in the future. But for now, our main concern is the loss of so much off-leash space."