Off-leash dog park and virtual recreation initiatives win MRPA Awards

2021 MRPA Awards
The COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown have affected everyday processes and efficiency, and getting anything done during the health crisis has proven challenging for everyone. Richfield’s Recreation Services Department did not see it that way. During the pandemic, the department pivoted and expanded its virtual services and opened the city’s first off-leash dog park.

For its efforts, the department was awarded two Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association Awards.

In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon Minnesota, the Recreation Services Department realized that it would not be able to offer its programs in the traditional, in-person way it has become accustomed to doing. Moving forward, the department set a goal of creating a robust program that aimed to keep the community engaged both physically and mentally and continue to create a sense of connectedness and community.

The recreation team collaborated to produce recreation programs that were multicultural, connected to all ages, represented its community, and were accessible via phone, tablet and computer.

“We developed through many internal and external partnerships more than 100 virtual programs that as of today have 1.2 million virtual engagements, and growing,” said Recreation Services Director Amy Markle. “We are excited that through the pandemic we were able to keep our community active and engaged in the safest way possible.”

Programming included puppet shows, dance parties, sports drills, bilingual bike safety classes, wild animal demonstrations, scavenger hunts, yoga classes and culinary expos.

“The virtual recreation programming offered during the pandemic was a life saver for so many people,” explained Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “So many parents told me that their children enjoyed the creative programs and that they were appreciative of the support for the Richfield community during these challenging times.” 

Plans for Richfield’s first off-leash dog park were in the making well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but like other large-scale projects, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Recreation Services Department had put the project on hold.

The department moved forward and on November 5, 2020, the dog park was opened.

“During the pandemic, dog walking is a big way people recreate and use our parks in Richfield,” added Markle. We’re excited to be able to offer a space for our local dogs to come and run and play, and give residents another way to get outdoors.”

Compared to many dog parks, Richfield’s is unique in that the space was created and developed from underutilized skating rinks located within Roosevelt Park. The rinks didn't have a warming house and others nearby do. In recent years, the rinks were not well-attended.

During the site selection process, this location met much of the established project criteria including adequate space and lighting that was easy to convert to LEDs, which were not found in other parks in Richfield’s already built-out community. Overall, the dog park was created out of community desire and feedback, and in the middle of a pandemic became a safe outlet for pets and their owners to have a safe space to recreate together.

“There are always people at the dog park,” stated Ward III Councilmember Ben Whalen. “I am not even a dog person, but I get so excited to watch all the dogs and their owners as I walk through Roosevelt Park.”