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Believed to be the first municipal park for dogs, Ohlone Dog Park is located on a grassy parcel of land within the larger Ohlone Park, which was saved from development by local activists in the 1960s. This parcel became known as the "People's Park Annex" in 1969 after local activists began to landscape a vacant lot that had been previously razed by developers. Creating a community park on a vacant lot at this location followed a similar endeavor at the nearby "People's Park" in downtown Berkeley, spurring a gritty series of protests when the land was reclaimed in favor of development (although the activists were eventually allowed to keep their park). In 1979, a group of local residents began to use part of the "People's Park Annex" as a dog park. According to many accounts, this became the first official municipal dog park in America, and possibly the first of its kind in the world. Within this designated area, dog owners are encouraged to take their dogs off of their leashes to run freely. There are several picnic tables and benches, while dog owners are encouraged to provide water and pick up after their pet.

  • The "People's Park Annex," now called "Ohlone Park," which includes the Ohlone Dog Park
  • Community Activists first create the "People's Park Annex" in May 1969 from a vacant lot on Hearst Avenue, as part of a vision of "letting a thousand parks bloom"
  • Community activists protest in support of the "People's Park" and "People's Park Annex" (May 30, 1969)
  • Protestors march in downtown Berkeley after law enforcement and National Guard is called in to occupy the newly created "People's Park" and "People's Park Annex" (May 30, 1969)
  • After activists save the parks in downtown Berkeley, the Ohlone Dog Park is created by residents in 1979 within Ohlone Park (previously the "People's Park Annex")
  • The Ohlone Dog Park in Ohlone Park (previously the "People's Park Annex")
  • The Ohlone Dog Park in Ohlone Park (previously the "People's Park Annex")

The historic Ohlone Dog Park widely holds the distinction of being considered the first off-leash public dog park in America and possibly also the first in the world. The urban parcel of land on which the dog park is located was originally cleared in the 1960s as part of the Bay Area Rapid Transit project. This project involved the development of an underground transportation system throughout San Francisco and the surrounding Bay region.

After local residents fought to block the construction of the underground transit system in downtown Berkeley, the result was a vacant lot along Hearst Avenue, as several buildings had been razed in anticipation of development. In 1969, community activists began to landscape this parcel into a neighborhood park, calling it the "People's Park Annex," following a similar project at the nearby "People's Park" on Telegraph Avenue which sparked a tumultuous series of protests in May 1969. Associated with the broader counter-cultural movement in Berkeley in the 1960s, the community activists who created the "People's Park" and the People's Park Annex" in downtown Berkeley had a vision of "letting a thousand parks bloom."

After local residents saved the narrow parcel of land on Hearst Avenue from development in the 1960s, and then subsequently converted it into the "People's Park Annex" via grassroots community efforts in 1969, a group of local residents again came together in 1979 and decided to declare part of this land as an off-leash urban dog park. Initially, this idea was something of a new public experiment, in which urban pets could enjoy exercising and socializing off-leash with other dogs and humans. By 1983, the experiment was considered so successful that the City of Berkeley officially designated the land as a dog park. In addition, the non-profit Ohlone Dog Park Association (ODPA) was formed in 1984 and became incorporated in 1986. Never before had a municipal government in America approved an off-leash public dog park where humans could bring their canine companions to run freely. However, the idea soon spread across America.

Because of the rise of leash-laws, which prohibit dogs from running freely in public parks and levy heavy fines on the dogs' owners, there emerged a greater recognition of the need for designated municipal dog parks where urban canines could run freely off-leash. As the idea began to gain greater support, similar public dog parks started to pop up in other U.S. cities, including Louisville, Kentucky, and Palo Alto, California.

The Ohlone Dog Park in Berkeley was originally named in 1979 for the indigenous Ohlone people, a group of approximately fifty tribes that came to reside in the Bay Area thousands of years ago. However, it is also officially known as the Martha Scott Benedict Memorial Park, in honor of one of the original founders and leaders of the Ohlone Dog Park Association. Within the park, there is a particular fire hydrant that has been dedicated to the association's longest-running president, Doris Richards.

In 2016, the Ohlone Dog Park was renovated to improve its accessibility, while adding additional features. There is now a separate "small dogs area" that is fenced off where smaller dogs can safely run and play. Several trees within the park provide shade for both people and dogs. Benches and picnic tables are also provided. Although these benches and picnic tables are primarily intended for human use, four-legged friends are allowed to make use of the furniture without sanction. Today, the Ohlone Dog Park Association continues to help maintain the park as a clean and safe outdoor space for both canine and human use. The association's acronym, ODPA, is affectionately pronounced by local residents as "Odd Paw."

Blum, Paul von. "Before Occupy, There Was People's Park", TruthDig. June 28th 2019. Accessed March 3rd 2020.

"Dog Parks: Where they started and how they spread", Daily Breeze. Accessed March 1st 2020.

"Ohlone Dog Park", Berkeley Historical Plaque Project. Accessed March 1st 2020.

"Ohlone Dog Park in Berkeley", Berkeley and Beyond. Accessed March 1st 2020.

"Ohlone Dog Park Association", Local AARP. Accessed March 1st 2020.

"Unforgettable Change: 1960s: People’s Park Fights UC Land Use Policy; One Dead, Thousands Tear Gassed", Picture This: California Perspectives on American History. Accessed March 4th 2020.

Whiting, Sam. "People’s Park at 50: a recap of the Berkeley struggle that continues", San Francisco Chronicle. May 12th 2019. Accessed March 4th 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

WIki Commons

Picture This: California Perspectives on American History

Janine Wiedel,

R. Kehlmann (2013), Berkeley Historical Plaque Project

R. Kehlmann (2013), Berkeley Historical Plaque Project

R. Kehlmann (2013), Berkeley Historical Plaque Project