IRVING PARK — Horner Park’s dog-friendly area reopened Friday with improvements that are part of Phase Two of its construction.
The project has been in the works since 2013, when neighbors reached out to the Horner Park Advisory Council expressing interest in a dog-friendly area inside the park.
The dog park now has fencing, separate areas for small and large dogs, five benches, a water fountain and a water play area that doubles as a cooling station.
“The activator on the water play area was initially working and now it’s not working. So we’re working on getting that fixed so that we can use the water feature again. Right now we just have the hose hooked up with a kiddie pool in there,” said Erica Beutleer, chair of the Horner Park Advisory Council‘s the dog park committee.
Dogs ran around playing with each other and hopped into the kiddie pool to splash around at the newly reopened park Monday afternoon.
Laura Bouxsein and Tony Pellegrino were there with their dog, Pepper, a 2-year-old pit bull and boxer mix. They rescued her last year and named her after pepper jack cheese.
“We were worried about how we were going to socialize her. But having this huge space in the park is such an incredible resource. Dog day care and training can be really expensive, and a lot of those places were also closed because of the pandemic,” Bouxsein said. “Having a free city space like this is a relief for us and for her.”
People with dogs who don’t have yards need large spaces for their pets to exercise, and Horner Park’s latest improvements put it on par with the dog park at Montrose Beach, Pellegrino said.
“It’s fantastic what they’ve done with this place,” he said. “Coming here or the Montrose dog beach with Pepper are our plans for this summer.”
Phase One of the dog park was completed in August 2018. It initially opened to the public as a fenced-in, no frills spot. Then the dog park closed in April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The park reopened briefly in October 2020 before closing again when construction on Phase Two began.
But that latest round of construction hit some snags. Fences that had already been installed needed repair or replacement due to the damage caused by the August derecho. Then heavy snow and ice in February delayed crews from working. Once construction resumed in the spring, broken glass was found while excavating the ground for dog-friendly turf play fields.
“Crews were ready to finish the work in March but then it became evident that there was a glass problem,” Beutleer said. “Just all this glass had been stirred up and spread out around the area they’d been working.”
Before the area along the river between Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue became Horner Park it was home to a manufacturing company that used the clay it dug out from its riverside property to make bricks, according to the Park District.
Those clay pits were later used as a small riverside landfill after the brick manufacturer left the property. Neighbors complained and by the 1950s the city completed its acquisition and transformation of the property into what is now Horner Park.
To address the landfill glass that was found, crews excavated about 6 inches of soil across the entire dog park area and replaced it with clean fill and then mulch, Beutleer said.
Cleaning the glass from the area delayed plans to install an artificial, pet-friendly turf play field made from recycled materials, Beutleer said. Once installed, the turf will allow people and their dogs to use the park in different weather conditions without worrying about getting muddy or covered in mulch.
Some of the dog park still has temporary fencing. The committee plans to install permanent fencing in August once the correct panels arrive. The committee also plans to install additional signs, repair the water feature’s activator switch, perform additional landscaping and plant some trees.
To that end, the committee is gearing up for its annual Horner Park Dog Park calendar contest fundraising effort.
“We’ll be putting out messages on our Facebook page and email newsletter soon but basically we ask people to submit photos of their dogs. It’s like $10 to submit your photo and then we have a weeklong vote for people to chose the different dogs,” Beutleer said. “The photos with the 12 most votes get to be in the calendar. And then in the late fall the calendar comes out for people to buy and all the money goes to the dog park.”
For more information about the dog park and to donate, click here.
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