Already a dog haven, Cope Park set to become Juneau’s first official off-leash park

Big changes are coming for Juneau’s Cope Park.

The city plans to make the space more inviting and secure. It’ll also become Juneau’s first official off-leash dog park.

For the past two years the city of Juneau has been asking residents to fill out an online survey about how they use Cope Park and ways it could be improved. Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf says some common themes emerged from the more than 300 responses: Better lighting, improved tennis courts, and more amenities for dogs.

“One of the things we heard loud and clear is that people didn’t necessarily feel safe here at night,” Schaaf says. “So one of the things we’re trying to do with the project is to brighten up the park, improve the sight lines, and make it more attractive, so more people come here more often.”

Some of that’s already been accomplished. New drainage should improve field conditions, and a new outfield fence will go up sometime in the next two weeks. Gone is a crumbling rock wall, replaced by a gentle sloping hill. The old picnic shelter and some abandoned bathrooms have been torn down as well.

“Those buildings had been out of service for many, many years. We were having a lot of vandalism and a lot of maintenance problems with them,” Schaaf says. “They should have been taken out when the new bathrooms were built about five years ago. But there wasn’t enough money at the time to do that.”

Schaaf says the city did not need a survey to tell it how popular Cope Park is with dogs. Besides some pickup kickball and few Little League games, he says the ball field is almost exclusively used by dog owners looking to exercise their pooches.

“For the most part it’s one dog after another, sometimes many dogs out here,” he says.

Right now Cope Park is leash-only, though it’s a rule many dog owners choose to ignore. Schaaf says the city wants to give people what they want in a park experience. So he plans to write new regulations to make it Juneau’s first official off-leash park.

“A lot of the rules will just be how to be a good dog guardian out here and how to be a good park user,” Schaaf says. “Common courtesy will be a big part of it.”

Tim Spengler and his cocker spaniels Ella and Pippin use Cope Park a couple times a week. The dogs are looking forward to an improved experience, and Spengler is excited about it too.

“Juneau is rich with a lot of good trails and such, but this would be nice to have something that’s particularly dedicated for dogs,” he says. “As long as it’s not exclusively for dogs and dogs weren’t allowed other places.”

The second phase of Cope Park improvements are scheduled to begin in 2016. Schaaf says that project will be more involved than the work done this year, including a new layout, playground equipment, major lighting upgrades, new tennis courts, and two new picnic shelters.

The park is named after Bill Cope, a former captain with Capital City Fire and Rescue. Juneau Fire Chief Rich Etheridge says firefighters are planning a memorial statue in Cope’s honor.

“The one we’re looking at right now is a firefighter wearing bunker gear and he’s with a child, and handing off his fire helmet for the kid to play with,” Etheridge says. “We just felt it was a really good representation for what we felt the park should be about.”

Etheridge says firefighters will start fundraising for the statue soon. Schaaf says part of it could be financed with the city’s 1 percent for art fund.

All of the Cope Park renovations are being funded by the city’s temporary 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2012.

Disclosure: George Schaaf is a member of KTOO’s Board of Directors.

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