As the area’s population continues to climb, local planners are considering ways to expand the number of recreational opportunities — for dogs.
“Dogs adore playing with other dogs,” said Peggy Laws, the education director for Service Dogs of Virginia. “When you can run a dog off-lead, they get so much more exercise than just a walk.”
There are more than 7,000 licensed dogs in Albemarle and Charlottesville, but the two jurisdictions only have three public areas for them to play in an enclosed setting.
Jessica Glendinning, of Charlottesville, said she wants more opportunities to exercise her rescued Newfoundland outside.
“I think that the Charlottesville and Albemarle area could definitely support more dog parks,” Glendinning said. “Darden Towe supports a fairly high number of dogs, though the grass often wears down to mud.”
Public dog parks fall under the domain of the city and county parks departments.  
“We’re always exploring opportunities for new dog parks,” said Bob Crickenberger, the county’s parks and recreation director.

Lucy and Jimbo play at Darden Towe Park

The county began planning its first dog park after Darden Towe opened in 2000.

“When we opened the park, we noticed a lot of people wanted to let their dogs run,” said Matt Smith, county parks superintendent. “It was a battle to keep the animals on a leash and under control.”
Smith approached dog owners and formed a committee to establish the fenced area, which opened in 2001. A second facility opened at Chris Greene Lake a few years later, and offers a chance for dogs to swim in a roped-off area.
However, the area frequently turns to mud.
“We try to have grass, but grass is not achievable when you have that many little paws on the ground,” Smith said.
Laws said she used to take her dogs to Chris Greene Lake, but stopped soon after being told by a police officer that her animals needed to be on a leash between her vehicle and the fenced area.
Laws said she’d like the county to emulate the policy at the city’s Riverview Park, where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash Tuesday through Thursday.
Smith said the county is exploring a potential location for a dog park near Crozet, and that he hopes one might be open by year’s end.
Smith said dog parks are relatively new for a rural county that has only begun urbanizing relatively recently.
“You understand having them in cities where people have dogs but don’t have anywhere to take them,” Smith said. “You look at those facilities and they’re gravel lots.”
Gravel at Azalea?
Azalea Park is expected to remain Charlottesville’s lone dog park, for now.
“We don’t have a new dog park in any of our master plans at this point in time,” said Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreation director.
The city conducted a needs assessment for its parks system in 2006, but dog parks were listed as only a medium priority.
The city is implementing a new master plan for Azalea Park that calls for the off-leash area to be moved to the back of the park on a section of undeveloped land.
The city originally planned a slightly larger off-leash area, but representatives of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association argued that would make the new dog park out of scale with the park.
“During the master-planning process, there was a strong sense that Azalea is fine as a neighborhood park and that any regional activity is going to have an impact,” said Jack Wilson, who lives near the park.
A plan for two separate bays, so dogs could run in one while grass could grow in the other, has not worked out as hoped, Daly said. Grass is giving away to mud.
“[The dog run areas] can be loved to death,” Daly said.
The city is considering adding crushed gravel similar to that used in the material lining the Schenks Branch Greenway.
Wilson said he hopes the city can find another option.
“With the renovation, we’re limited on green space in the park as it is,” Wilson said.
Daly said something needs to be done about the mud.
“Once it’s mud, it stays mud,” Daly said. “The dogs track it everywhere, and it’s not a solution.”
City staff will present their proposal to the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association at the group’s June meeting.
Daly said some people requested an off-leash area at the planned Meadow Creek Stream Valley Park, but that would have required additional parking.
“We just couldn’t find a location for it to work as a destination amenity,” Daly said.
The parks are popular, according to one local Realtor.
“More of my clients do have pets it seems, and many of them are asking about proximity to dog parks,” said Jim Duncan of Nest Realty. “Azalea Park and Darden Towe Park are always in constant conversation.”
Private dog parks
As the city and county prepare for new facilities for dogs, some apartment complexes in the area have added enclosed spaces for dogs as an amenity to entice new residents.
These include Abbington Crossing near Fashion Square mall, Lakeside Apartments off Avon Street Extended and Jefferson Ridge Apartment Homes off Sunset Avenue Extended. The Independence, an apartment complex on Pantops marketed to people over 55, recently opened a one-acre Bark Park.