A little more than two years ago Lake George RV Park in upstate New York opened Charlie’s Bark Park, a 2 1/2-acre off-leash dog run that just might be the standard by which all other dog parks are measured.
Among its space, Charlie’s Bark Park features a large open area featuring shaded trails and agility equipment, a 2,000-square-foot pavilion and a 10,000-square-foot synthetic turf area. There’s even a separate area for smaller dogs.
“I truly believe it’s one-of-a-kind in our industry. You kind of have to see it to believe it, but it’s pretty exceptional,” said Dave King, president of Lake George RV Park. “We took a lot of extra time and resources in designing a dog park that would really exceed the expectations of all guests. We basically took what we thought were the best features of all the parks we looked at all over the country and tried to build it into a park here in our facility.”
The shaded trails offer ample open space, as well as a water-spraying fire hydrant, for the four-legged friends to release all sorts of energy. Eighteen different sets of BarkPark brand agility equipment from Playcore, featuring ramps and hoops and tunnels and more, offer even more tiring fun. Benches and pet-waste stations, also by BarkPark, offer the same paw prints, dog bones and other pet-themed designs.
With its dark mahogany and timber frame accents, the pavilion’s impressive architectural design reflects the Adirondack setting of the RV park. The building houses restrooms as well as a visually attractive commercial-grade dog-washing station, two grooming stations and vending machines dispensing pet treats, toys and other items. With two sets of gates, the pavilion also is the secure entrance and exit to the dog park.
Another highlight is the Adirondack-style benches that serve as a barrier as well as comfortable seating for pet owners.
Called K9 Grass, the synthetic turf is manufactured specifically for use in dog park applications by Forever Lawn. The material has a net backing that, when installed over several inches of aggregate, allows urine to drain freely. King said there is no lingering smell, and the grass only needs an occasional rinsing every two weeks or so unless there’s rain. Vacuuming is also part of the maintenance, mainly to keep the netting free of leaves and other debris as well as to perk up the grass fibers.
“The comment I hear all the time is how having this off-leash recreation area just gives all these dogs such a great place to recreate and work off all that energy,” King said. “Our experience has been that the dogs who are barking the most are probably the ones that have been exercised the least, usually because people just get busy enjoying their vacations and sometimes will leave the dog behind. They don’t get out and use up all that energy and now they become a little disruptive.
“That was kind of a key to building the bark park was to have a place where they could run all that energy off so when they returned to their campsite they’d be as quiet as could be and, in general, we’ve found that to be the case. The number of concerns expressed about barking dogs has diminished considerably since we opened the bark park.”
Located about an hour north of Albany in Lake George, N.Y., Lake George RV Park features 400 full-hookup campsites on more than 120 acres. The park has a lengthy list of exterior and interior amenities, and King said next year an outdoor pool will make way for a huge water park.
For the second consecutive year, Lake George RV Park was awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015 and the park regularly receives the highest ratings from GuestRated.com and the Good Sam RV Travel and Saving Guide.
When it came time to design and build Charlie’s Bark Park, all agreed that it must live up to the high standards expected by the park’s guests and first set in place by King’s parents, Victor and Jessica King, when they opened Lake George RV Park in 1966.
They didn’t have to look far when determining a name for the park, either. Charlie was a much-loved basset hound and Victor King’s “right-hand man” during much of the 1980s. A plaque and painting commemorating the two is planned for the park’s pavilion.
King said the majority of their guests travel with their pets, which are nearly always dogs. Most other RV parks and campground owners contacted by Woodall’s Campground Management said the same, with many estimating as much as 60% to 70% of their guests travel with one or more dogs.
Likewise, Lake George RV Park’s pet policies are typical of those found at most other campgrounds and RV parks in North America:
- Pets must be leashed at all times (unless in the dog run).
- Owners must be clean up after their pets.
- Pets should never be left alone at your site, in your RV or any other area of the park.
- Proof of rabies vaccination should be provided upon request.
- Pets should be kept quiet and not disturb other guests.
Many park owners said they have breed restrictions, such as pit bull terrier and Rottweiler, that are either simply because of owner preference or due to insurance policy. Other park owners said dogs are restricted on a case-by-case basis.
Desert’s Edge RV, also known as “The Purple Park,” in Phoenix, Ariz., has two dog runs — the smaller of the two is about eight feet wide by about 30 feet long while the other one is about 40 feet long — as well as a 5,000-square-foot off-leash area. While they’re still exploring whether to add agility equipment, park supervisor Eric Vargas said they do have fire hydrants so the dogs can “mark their territory.”
Vargas added that Desert’s Edge, unlike other campgrounds in the area, does not limit the number of dogs people can have. The first two dogs are included in the rate, but after that there is a per-dog fee.
“We’ll have people who show dogs that aren’t allowed at other parks because they might have six dogs with them. We’ve had people with as much as a dozen dogs with them. They might have to pay more, but at least they have the option of being able to stay with us,” he said.
Desert’s Edge also has a dog washing-and-grooming facility that gets quite a bit of use, especially during snowbird season when there can sometimes be a line waiting to use the facilities.
“A lot of times people don’t have that option because they’d have to bathe their pets in their RV, and the size of those restrooms aren’t very big. So they either have to do that or take their pet to a groomer,” Vargas explained, adding that Desert’s Edge supplies each pet-toting guest with an Emergency Pet Decal, which is essentially a removable sticker for the RV that notifies others of a pet inside.
Shady Acres RV Park & Campground in Green River, Utah, built a dog park about four years ago. Named “Arffy Park,” the enclosed dog park has separate areas for small and large dogs as well as benches and picnic tables for the pet owners to relax on.
Nancy Wright, Shady Acres’ manager, said the dog park is often everyone’s entertainment for the evening. She added that it’s important for 100-site Shady Acres to be pet friendly “because we have dogs ourselves.”
“I just feel that our customers are past that children age and all of our customers have dogs rather than children. Dogs are so much better behaved than the children,” she said. “It’s just important because that’s the kind of people we want in our park. The kind of people who love their dogs the way we do. I think people who have dogs have bigger hearts. They’re older, they take care of their dogs like they were their children and that’s the way we like it. We have a KOA down the street that wants all the children and that is totally fine with me.”
Shady Acres does not allow pit bulls, she said. “I’d be too afraid to have them around,” said Wright.
Randy Whistler, who operates Deer Creek Valley RV Park in Topeka, Kan., with his wife, Sherry, said he determines whether a dog is not allowed only after he’s met the animal. “There’s no such thing as a bad dog, just a bad dog owner,” Whistler said, adding they try to meet every dog as they first enter the park for a number of reasons, including being able to place a dog with its owner if ever the two are separated. “But I want them to know who I am, too, so if he is running loose he won’t be afraid to come to me so I can take him back to where he belongs,” he said.
Deer Creek Valley, which has 54 pull-through sites and five back-in sites, has a 20-foot-by-50-foot fenced-in dog park adjacent to its playground. Two entry gates ensure dogs are secure coming to and from the dog park, which also has waste stations and a large expanse of grass. When RVs first enter the park, Whistler said dogs are usually on the dashboard, eyes fixed on the dog park.
“One of the things we’ve always believed is a good dog is a tired dog. Turn them loose in there and they can run around in there and they just have a blast,” Whistler said. “It’s kind of funny because all the RVers will meet each other out there and then their dogs will meet each other. The RVers will sit down on the benches and talk and the dogs will go play in the park.”
Deer Creek Valley does not charge extra for pets, no matter how many.
“We try to run the park and treat the people the way we would want to be treated if we were coming in here to camp,” Whistler said. “If you come in here today in your RV and check in I’m going to treat you exactly the same way I’d want you to treat me if the situation were reversed. It’s the same way with the dogs. The dogs are part of the family. The dogs deserve to come along with you. The dog deserves to have his own consideration. That’s what we try to do, we try to treat everybody as family.”
About six years ago, Terry Tuytan, owner of 225-site Stone Creek RV Park near San Antonio, Texas, attended a conference where a speaker talked about how the majority of RVers travel with their pets and parks ought to provide pet-friendly amenities as an attraction. By the next year, Tuytan built two off-leash dog parks.
“And they’re not just fenced-in areas,” he said. “They’re actually agility parks. They’re pretty tricked. Most folks are jazzed about it. I’m a pet lover and we have a lot of pets in the park. I think those are really what set us apart. A lot of campgrounds have off-leash areas, but I took it to the next level and made it pretty nice.”
With some help from campers, Tuytan built all of the agility equipment. Each of the two parks features a walking beam, seesaw, culvert pipe, “time-out” section, weaving obstacles and pyramid ramps. He also built benches for each park and, since the large park had trees for shade, he built a shade shelter for the smaller park. He lined the perimeter with railroad ties and used pea gravel around the agility equipment, with the rest being grass.
“I went online to look at buying this stuff and, believe me, it was going to cost us $20,000 per park,” he said, adding that local firefighters helped him locate four decommissioned fire hydrants he bought for $15 each.
The results of his efforts are two dog parks that get a lot of use by a lot of dogs, he said.
“I get a big grin on my face because one of the dog parks is right by the office. I’m seeing half a dozen dogs in there. They’re all out there running around and having fun and that, to me, is a kick. It’s like kids on a playground,” he said.
Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort in Foxboro, Mass., has a 1 1/2-acre dog park called Freedom Tail Park built about six years ago. Since then, Normandy Farms has added additional pet-friendly amenities, such as Canine Coop dog kennels and dog walking and potty break services.
“They are definitely in demand for sure, just because of the sheer volume of dogs that we have,” said Kristine Daniels, director of marketing for Normandy Farms. She added that almost 60% of their guests travel with their dogs and last year 4,500 different dogs stayed with their owners at Normandy Farms, equating to 31,045 “doggie nights” of camping.
Freedom Tail Park is an off-leash, fenced-in area that offers agility equipment, a dog wash and drinking fountain. The park recently added a water-spraying fire hydrant, and a designated area for dogs less than 30 pounds is also available.
The Canine Coop is totally enclosed, including a roof, so guests are assured their pets are safe when they need to leave them for a time. The coop is also complete with a doghouse and water spigot and is available to rent on an hourly, but not overnight, basis. Like the dog walking and potty break services, the Canine Coop allows guests to visit nearby tourist destinations knowing their pet will be take care of.
“We are a destination park, but often people will take advantage of our proximity to Boston and Cape Cod. When you have your dog with you it’s a challenge to be able to do those things. So by offering those services such as the potty break and the dog walking service, it allows people to enjoy those opportunities while still enjoying time with their pets,” Daniels explained.
She added that dogs are given biscuits when they and their owners first arrive at the resort. They also are given a nametag with their name and site number on one side, and the campground’s pet policies on the other.
Normandy Farms also rents pet-friendly popup campers, cabins and yurts. The decks on these rentals are fenced-in to allow dogs to roam freely while on the deck, and Daniels said these are so popular they typically rent out a year in advance.
In addition, each year Normandy Farms hosts a Dog’s Day Weekend. Included among the weekend’s festivities is a dog parade, where the animals get all dressed up and walked around the park, and a local animal rescue will bring in dogs available for adoption. Guests’ dogs also compete in various contests, such as tallest dog, best trick and most well behaved.