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Sugar House Journal

Parley’s Park is a pooch paradise but with some peril

Aug 29, 2018 15h45 ● By Jana Klopsch

Caree Cutshaw with Samson (left), a bernedoodle and her friend Lauren Prescott with her bernedoodle, Milo. (Lawrence Linford/City Journals)

By Lawrence Linford | [email protected]

On a late August morning, dogs and their owners streamed in and out of sprawling Parley’s Historic Nature Park like visitors to a shrine. Coming up the long hill and nearing the park’s exit were Cole Marshall and Maggie McNeil with six dogs swirling around them.

“We love coming here. Everyone is so friendly and we love the water,” said McNeil. As Marshall tried to corral the dogs he said, “Where’s Ava? Ava!” then sprinted up the hill after the energetic German shepherd. Soon Ava was back with her precious tennis ball between her teeth.

Parley’s is a beautiful 63-acre open space park. It is lush with trees, allows access to Parley’s Creek at two points, has historical sites and is one of the most popular off-leash dog parks in Salt Lake. Parley’s Trail also runs along the northern edge of the park.

Parley’s Historic Nature Park is usually, but mistakenly, called Tanner Park. The confusion is likely because Tanner is right next to Parley’s and there is an enormous “Tanner Park” sign near Parley’s entrance. Also, the plaque with Parley’s name and information is smaller, inside the park and badly faded.

As you enter the park about 200 feet down on your left you’ll see signs stating that you’re entering the off-leash portion of the park. There is a trash can and plastic bags for your dog’s waste and also that badly faded sign describing the park and the park’s rules.

The road entering the park is about a quarter mile and has a somewhat steep decline. It can be challenging for some older or less fit dogs particularly on the way up. The road is covered in gravel just like most of the trails in the park.

Dogs’ delight

At the bottom of the road, you’re near the heart of the park and you’ll see the first access to Parley’s Creek on your left. On Aug. 4, Kevin Slonecker stood in the middle of the creek holding on to Babs’ leash, he and his fiancé’s 1-year-old poodle-Great Pyrenees mix, as she splashed about playing with several other dogs in the water (for a short video visit our Facebook page).

“Babs is on her leash because we are working on training her recall,” said Alexis Slonecker as about 20 people and their dogs played and relaxed around the creek.

“Babs is the biggest goofball,” said Alexis Slonecker. “When she sits she’ll tip her head completely backwards to look at things behind her. She’s very sweet, eager to please and just wants to be pet all day.”

At this first creek access, a wide trail heads about a quarter-mile to the west end of the park. However, the more popular path heads east about three-quarters of a mile, ending at the second creek access and a lovely pond for dogs and people to enjoy.

The Sloneckers were also there with their 2-year-old golden retriever Oona. “I have never been to a place like Tanner (or Parley’s) Park before,” said Alexis Slonecker. “It’s unique, fun and exciting.”

It was first only a nature park

Part of what makes Parley’s unique is it was originally established in 1986 as a historic nature park by Gov. Scott Matheson and not as a dog park. Over time more dog owners brought their dogs to the natural area and eventually successfully lobbied to turn Parley’s into a dog park in 2007.

However, due to overuse, environmental problems and some dog owners not following the park’s rules, Parley’s was restored to a multi-use park, with an increased focus on environmental protection. A 10-acre off-leash dog area was identified, that was more environmentally friendly, as part of the 2010 comprehensive plan and then codified into Salt Lake City code in 2011.

A recent tragedy and park concerns

Possibly because Parley’s was originally a natural area, the wildness of the park and especially of Parley’s Creek in the spring — more powerful due to snow melt — can lead to danger. On April 23, 2017, a 58-year-old woman and her husband were walking their two dogs in the park. The dogs went into the creek and were swept downstream. When the woman tried to rescue them, she fell into the creek and was also swept downstream. Her husband and two men went in after her. Tragically, she was underwater for 90 seconds and drowned. Her dogs survived.

Alexis Slonecker recalled a similar incident with her dog, Oona, during that same spring. Oona was playing in the creek when she was swept down creek. Fortunately, a tree had fallen in the creek that stopped Oona and allowed her to swim sideways back to shore.

“I wish there were more posted warning signs,” said Alexis Slonecker, “because I don’t think people realize how dangerous the creek can be in the spring.”

The park’s appeal

Despite last year’s tragedy the park remains popular. A dozen people echoed consistent themes at the park: the other dog owners were largely responsible, they loved being in nature, they enjoyed watching their dogs play and roam freely, and they especially enjoyed access to the creek.

“The park is a great place for meeting new friends both dog and people alike,” said Alexis Slonecker. “Salt Lake is fortunate to have a park that is so wonderful.”

Lauren Prescott and Caree Cutshaw are two friends who were visiting, each with their own 1-year-old first-generation bernedoodles, Milo and Samson.

“The best part about the park is the big water feature at the end,” said Prescott. “It’s so much fun to see this giant group of dogs hanging out and having a good time.”

About 25 people and their dogs gathered around the pond area at the east end of the park (for a short video go to our Facebook page). The scene had a timeless quality as people relaxed or waded in the water, enjoying its coolness, while watching their dogs relax or play as the day slowly warmed.

The park is roughly at 2740 South and 2700 East in Salt Lake City. Folks accessing the dog park portion of Parley’s usually park in the Tanner parking lots or on Heritage Way. They then head east on the path between Tanner and the parking lots towards Parley’s entrance: a gravel access road at the Heritage Way and 2700 East intersection that leads down into the park. Parking is sometimes creative due to the park’s popularity.