Last September, the off-leash dog area at Miller Meadow in Maywood held its grand opening, to the delight of frolicking dogs and their owners. A year later, it’s still going strong. But it takes a dedicated and largely unrecognized group of volunteers to keep everyone at the Forest Preserves’ three off-leash dog areas (OLDA) wagging their tails.
As a proponent of establishing the Miller Meadow dog area, Susan Casey was volunteering even before it opened, and now leads the volunteer group. She describes her duties as “Walking the fence, replacing mutt mitts, being the general eyes and ears of the park, and keeping the Facebook page up to date.”
“I volunteer because it’s fun meeting new people and to help increase publicity and awareness about OLDAs,” says Casey. “So far, it has been a really successful part of Miller Meadow that members enjoy. My relationship with the other volunteers is very positive. They are really important to the continuation of the OLDA because the most important part of its success is people informing me of issues that arise.”
What sets Casey apart from most other Miller Meadow volunteers is that she no longer even has a dog. “Unfortunately, my dog is no longer alive, but I still enjoy the interaction at the OLDA,” she says. “It’s rewarding seeing people and their dogs happy.”
The Forest Preserves’ two other off-leash dog areas have been around longer than the one at Miller Meadow. Beck Lake, in Des Plaines, opened in 2003 and Bremen Grove, in Tinley Park, opened in 2013.
Ken Stoltz is the lead caretaker and one of the original volunteers at Beck Lake Off-Leash Dog Area. “My wife was one of the two women who worked so long and hard to get the park started,” he says. In the first few years, he says, volunteering was mandatory for members. These days, Stoltz spends 12 to 15 hours there each week, monitoring permits and occasionally mediating disputes between dog owners. And yes, he also picks up poop. “Volunteers don’t have to, but I do,” he says. “We have a few owners who feel that they don’t have to. We try to explain that they do. Most cases are just that they missed it. People get talking with one another or have multiple dogs and miss one. It helps keep the park clean.”
Laura Clemons volunteers at the Bremen Grove off-leash dog area, where, she says, “On any given day, many members can be found enjoying the serene natural environment while socializing with other members and their dogs.”
“There is a sense of family at the Bremen OLDA,” Clemons says. “Each member takes pride and has a sense of ownership in the facility, friendships have blossomed, and each does their part in keeping the park clean, safe and fun for all. There are so many dedicated volunteers at Bremen Grove who devote their time and energy to make sure that each and every member, whether they visit daily, weekly or ‘every so often,’ has an enjoyable experience.”
Clemons says Bremen’s success owes a lot to good communication with Forest Preserves staff. “The staff from the Forest Preserves are incredible partners, working so well with the volunteer group to address every need, repair, etcetera with a kind word and quick response. The park is the result of a great partnership between the community and the Forest Preserves — all are invested in its success.”
Learn more about Off-Leash Dog Areas. Please note that these are the only locations within the Forest Preserves where off-leash dogs are allowed.