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Tag: towns

Seattle: Where dogs are king

To my list of top five dog parks in America — which for all I know may number 16 by now — I must add one more: Marymoor Park in King County, Washington.

This is what a dog park should be — not some over-landscaped half acre, not fake hills covered with fake grass, not a field of gravel or a stretch of pavement.

Marymoor’s dog park is about as organic as dog parks get — this is Seattle after all — with the only obvious addition to its 40 acres of nature being the tons of mulch on the trails to keep things from getting too soggy.

“Doggy Disneyland,” as some call it, is huge — and hugely popular. When Ace and I visited this week, we saw two jam-packed parking lots, and well over 100 dogs romping about, some in the river, some in the open fields.

Located on what used to be a farm, the dog park features several hundred feet of river access and numerous walking paths. It’s less than two miles from the main Microsoft campus, which is something to behold as well.

The Seattle area, just as it draws high tech companies, seems to attract dog lovers — either that or it sprouts them from its well-watered soil. The abundance of dogs,  the esteem in which they are held, and lots of hard work have combined to make it a good place to be a dog.

Seattle and its surrounding area started opening dog parks before a lot of cities even started thinking about them.

The Save Our Dog Area committee of Marymoor Park formed in 1987 when citizens learned the King County Parks Division planned to close the off-leash area.

It managed to convince the county that dogs and their owners were as deserving of some recreational space as soccer-playing kids, kite-flyers and picnickers.

In 1995, the King County Council voted to adopt the new Marymoor Master Plan which called for keeping the dog area open and operating. After that SODA, which initially stood for “Save Our Dog Areas,” became “Serve Our Dog Areas,” working to maintain the acreage devoted to dogs.

Within the city of Seattle, another group, COLA (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas) was formed in 1995, seeking permanent off-leash recreational access in some of Seattle’s nearly 400 parks.

After opening seven dog parks on a trial basis, the Seattle City Council in 1997 voted 9-0 to establish permanent off-leash dog areas, giving COLA the responsibility of stewarding the sites for the Department of Parks and Recreation. There are now 11 of them.

In our 17,000 miles of traveling so far we’ve seen a lot of dog-friendly towns, including the dog-friendliest, but the Seattle area, in our book, has got to be one of the dog friendliest big cities in the country … Rain or shine.

Now THAT’S a dog park

Those who loyally follow my travels with Ace know that we feel a far stronger connection to the poor than the rich, and that our compassion for the former stems largely from our envy of the latter, along with our liberal bias, and the fact that we are, for now, living a few steps under the poverty line.

From time to time, we come close to bashing the wealthy — mostly for good reason, sometimes for no reason at all.

In our travels so far, we’ve noticed that some of the nicest parts of this country — be they desert, mountains or  oceanfront — have, in effect, become playgrounds for the rich, sometimes to the extent that the not so rich are nudged, pushed or priced out.

From Santa Fe to Cape Cod, we’ve seen communities that were established and long occupied by the working class – miners and fishermen and the like — that have refocused on tourism and are appealing to an upscale demographic, turning them into places everybody wants to come, but not everybody can afford.

So it was a bit to my surprise, and ran counter to my thinking — namely, that rich people achieve that state through selfishness — when I learned that the postcard-pretty, wonderfully open, unfenced and totally free dog park Ace and I were walking through in Bar Harbor, Maine, was a gift from a rich man’s family.

The philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family — donors of much of the land that would become  Acadia National Park — included ensuring that there would also be a place on the island where dogs can run free. And you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to go there.

Dogs on leashes are permited in Acadia National Park, but if you ever head up that way with your dog — and by all means you should — you need to know about the trail around Little Long Pond. I don’t have a problem with National Parks enforcing leash laws, but it always strikes me as incongruous that when walking through our country’s most free and open lands we must rein in our dogs’ spiritedness by means of a rope.

At Little Long Pond, dogs can romp through woods and grasslands, run on the deck of the boathouse, leap into the pond and sniff nature to their heart’s content.

Ace and I worked in two visits while on Mount Desert Island, and while he seemed to thoroughly enjoy peering over rocky cliffs to the ocean below, being the first dog in America to see Sunday’s sunrise, and spending time at the home we were staying at, with two cats and two horses, Little Long Pond seemed his favorite place.

Unlike Sag Harbor, the now upscale, former working class fishing town in Long Island where we started this leg our journey, retracing the route of John Steinbeck, Bar Harbor was pretty much upscale from the get go. Mount Desert Island  was settled by the rich and for years was their mostly private vacation spot.

When it opened up to the public, it did so carefully, and under the guidance of the wealthy families who came here first. That’s why, in Acadia National Park, you can still ride in a horse drawn carriage, along paths designed by Rockefeller, to get tea and popovers. That’s why the roads for cars are designed not in a way that get’s you where you going most quickly, but in a way that affords the best view.

Yes, the island is still pricey — that’s in its heritage — but there are lots of affordable options, and even some freebies, like the dog park, which adjoins the park service lands and is still owned and maintained by the family.

Acadia National Park is well worth the price of admission, and well worth spending more than the two days I scheduled.

Steinbeck didn’t include Bar Harbor on his route; instead, he visited Deer Isle, located on the next peninsula south, where he stayed at the home of a friend with an unfriendly cat. Rereading that part of the book, it doesn’t sound like either he or Charley had a real good time there.

In that way, given our days on Mount Desert Island,we’ve already got them beat.

Tucumcari tonight

Route 66 through Tucumcari is like Route 66 through a lot of places — a step back into the past that leaves you wondering if the old road and the motels that line it have much of a future.

Bypassed decades ago by Interstate 40, they fought to survive — and many have managed to do so nicely — but the economic downturn has made that a far fiercer fight.

Some, like the Blue Swallow (above) seem to be hanging on, thriving even. For others, the neon has burned out, the windows have been boarded up and weeds rise waist-high in the parking lot.

The Relax Inn, for example, is a ghost motel — and I’ve seen at least a dozen of them in my travels on Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona: Its outdated sign remains, but glows no more.

Route 66 was established in 1926, originally running from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ending in southern California – 2,448 miles in all.

It served as pathway for migrants moving west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Mom and pop businesses began popping up along it around then – restaurants, gas stations, motor courts, curio shops and more. Most of those businesses managed to survive the Depression, even prosper from it, catering to those moving west in search of a better life. World War II led to more westward migration, further bolstering businesses along Route 66. By the 1950s, the road served as the main highway for vacationers headed to California, or to see the sights of the West, and Route 66 thrived.

It would become a cultural icon in the decade that followed – featured in songs, TV shows and movies. It was distinctly American – and even today, some of the motels tout, in addition to their color cable TV and Internet connections, their American-ness.

The Tucumcari Inn, for example boasts that it is “American-owned”, but right next door, the sign at The Historic Route 66 Motel — as if casting aspersions on whether its neighbor is true-blue American — reads “Genuine American.” (Apparently, genuine American-ness, is worth an extra $2 a night)

The beginning of what many thought might be the end for Route 66 came in 1956 when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. Interstate 40 offered a speedier alternative, one in which motorists wouldn’t need to go through or slow down for towns like Tucumcari.

Instead they could avoid places of character and, eventually, fulfill their needs at lookalike, chain motels and restaurants conveniently located at the exits.

Despite the opposition of business and civic leaders in many of the bypassed towns, I-40 stretched on absorbing some parts of Route 66, sidestepping others.

In 1963, the New Mexico Legislature enacted legislation that banned the construction of interstate bypasses around cities by local request – but that didn’t fly. The federal government threatened to withhold federal highway funds. Instead some towns, Tucumcari included, worked out agreements with the federal government, in hopes that the new Interstate would at least come close to their businesses.

By the late 1960s, most of the rural sections of US 66 had been replaced by I-40 across New Mexico, and in 1981 the section bypassing Tucumcari was completed.

Route 66 would be “decommisioned” in 1985 when the federal government decided it was no longer “relevant” – given the presence of the Interstate Highway System.

Since then, there have been many efforts to preserve Route 66, and the businesses along it. In 1999 the National Route 66 Preservation Bill was signed by President Clinton, which provided $10 million in grants for preserving and restoring its historic features.

But the economic downturn has made the struggle to survive along Route 66 even more intense. Two years ago, the World Monuments Funded placed Route 66 on its list of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

Today, Tucumcari, whose billboards attempt to lure travelers off the Interstate and into town — “Tucumcari Tonight,” they urge – has fewer motels, fewer restaurants. It’s down to one bar, and the signs of struggle are apparent in boarded up buildings, bargain rates and beckoning neon.

Some of it, like hope, flickers at times, but it still shines bright. Long may it do so.

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)

Dog parks have blasted off in Houston

Yesterday, I took Ace to the largest and most amenity-laden dog park he’s ever been to — with 13 acres to romp and two cool blue lakes to swim in.

And here’s what he did: Sniffed. Sniffed some more. Peed. Pooped. Waded, zombie-like, into to the water twice, for about two seconds each time. Approached strangers to be petted. Then he found some shade and collapsed.

Millie Bush Bark Park in Harris County was by far the most impressive dog park we’d ever been to, and Ace — rather than frolicking, merely peed and sacked out. After five days pretty being limited to motel rooms, and spending limited time (his choice) outside on tiny patches of grass, I was expecting him to go nuts, make friends, splash around and have a gay old time.

Instead, it was like taking your kids to Six Flags only to find they wanted to spend the entire time in the restroom.

While Ace, probably for reasons heat related, was uninspired, Houston and its surrounding areas have been quite the opposite when it comes to dog parks.

Houston and its suburbs now boast over 20 fenced, off-leash dog parks with amenities that include swimming ponds, agility equipment, shaded (thank God) seating and trails.

Millie Bush Bark Park, located in George Bush Park and named after former President Bush’s dog, was Harris County’s first dog park, opening at the end of 2003.

Its success inspired other municipalities, including the city, to start opening dog parks as well.

The City of Houston announced the planned opening of its first dog park in 2004; today, in the city alone, there are six, with still more in the planning and fund-raising stages. Throw in the surrounding area, and the number of dog parks jumps to around 20.

Millie Bush Bark park features large and small dog areas, doggie swimming ponds, doggie water fountains, doggie showers, shade areas, benches, scattered trees, walking paths, fake fire hydrants, and a huge parking lot.

It makes Baltimore’s dog parks look like postage stamps.

You can find a complete list of the area’s dog parks at the website of the Houston Dog Park Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to help establish and support a network of off-leash dog parks in the Houston area.

I’m impressed with my former hometown’s performance when it comes to dog parks.

As I’m sure the Basset Hound below would agree, it’s pretty darn cool.