Among the fitness and nature enthusiasts along Town Lake lies a peninsula that is managed by packs of dogs who run the island as if it were their own. Red Bud Isle Park, a land-mass of some 13 acres, gives Austinites and their dogs the feel of the wild and the seclusion from the lights and noises of downtown.
Red Bud Isle is 1 of 11 off-leash parks offered to Austin’s approximately 215,000 dogs according to the City of Austin’s Park and Recreation Department. Dogs such as Skip-Bo, a Cocker Spaniel from South Austin, and Hazard, a Belgian Malinois Mix from Northwest Austin, enjoy many days at the park swimming and chasing wildlife. From a survey of 40 dogs, there were only four pairs of dogs from the same breed. The rest were a variety of different breeds represented by one dog or a mixture of breeds.
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Shelly Satterfield, a volunteer from Friends of Red Bud Isle, an organization that maintains the park, said off-leash dog parks are necessary in urban societies because there are no acres of open land for dogs to roam nor are they able to socialize with other dogs in a natural environment. “Dogs were certainly not meant to breed on leashes. They need exercise a whole lot more than you can give them.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) website, many dogs are lacking physical and mental activity: “Dogs’ wild relatives lead busy lives, too. Their days were full of hunting, scavenging, avoiding predators and complex social interaction. [Today] many become bored, lonely and overweight. They have excess energy and no way to expend it.”
Even though the park offers a natural escape from the lights and noises of downtown, the peninsula was created from a fatal, man-made disaster. According Dr. Bruce Hunt, a history professor at the University of Texas, the city of Austin built the Austin Dam in 1893, one of the largest dams in the world standing at 60 feet high and 1200 feet across.
The dam was meant to generate power and to supply water to the city, but seven years later, the dam broke from flood waters killing eight people. Today, pieces of the Austin Dam are still scattered in the Colorado Riverbed. “Chunks of granite and limestone from the broken dam formed the nuclei around which sediment collected just downstream of the rebuilt dam, called Tom Miller Dam, which was not built until 1940,” said Hunt.
Although humans are outnumbered by dogs, Red Bud Isle is frequented by trail walkers, kayakers and pic-nic goers. The park, however, is not a place for commercial interests such as solicitors, professional dog training, food trailers whether for people or dogs. It is remote as remote can be in a city – there are no bathrooms either.
When visiting the park, there are city codes to abide by, but there is an unwritten code of behavior expected of all dog owners said Satterfield. “It is to control and clean up after your pet or other dogs owners will ask you to leash your dog or leave…they are the enforcers.”To no surprise of any local Austinite, parking is limited. There are only 24 parking spots within the park and maybe four possible ones along the road (Red Bud Trail) at the entrance. There are also no places further up the road on either side to park and safely walk down to the peninsula. According to Satterfied, there are no plans to add parking: “We have tried multiple times to improve the parking situation with no positive results. I believe the city is happy with limited parking for two reasons – fewer people reduces erosion and also the police can give out many more tickets.”
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But, scooping the poop is a concern to more than just the fellow visitors and walkers. According to the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, Austin’s dogs generate over 100,000 pounds of waste per day. When not disposed of properly, the waste can cause Giardia, Roundworms, Samonella, algae, aquatic weeds and reduced oxygen for fish.
In 2011, Bull Creek Park in Northwest Austin, a former off-leash dog park, was ordered by the city to leash their dogs due to high levels of bacteria in the water caused by fecal matter. The Friends of Red Bud Isle, besides raising money for mulch and plants, promote proper waste disposal in order for the park to remain off-leash, clean and natural. “I sought out all the dog parks, then I found out about Red Bud, and it is one of the most scenic places in Austin,” said Satterfield.
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