Denver’s got a new pop-up dog park in the heart of Capitol Hill

In Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Quality Hill Park may be a pressure valve for a problem that’s been barking at city officials for years: Lots of dogs, too few places for them to run without a leash.

Closed to the public since fall, Quality Hill Park reopened on Monday as the neighborhood’s first dedicated dog park.

The arrangement is temporary for now. Ringed by lightweight fencing material that is easy to roll out and easy to take down, Denver parks staff emphasize this is a test phase of creating a permanent dog park at Quality Hill to serve Capitol Hill, a part of the city that skews young and is more popular with dog owners than parents of young children.

“A pop-up dog park doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be a permanent dog park,” senior Denver park ranger Jessica Johnson said. “We will get complaints. We will get compliments.”

The deciding factors behind whether the roughly quarter-acre park at the corner of Pennsylvania Street and East 10th Avenue will remain a dog park is feedback from neighbors and how well it is maintained by people who use it, Johnson said.

Well maintained means adhering to dog park rules that were set to be posted on signs around Quality Hill Park on Monday morning.

Those rules include:

  • Park hours are 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
  • No human food in the dog park
  • No kids under the age of 11 in the dog park
  • No aggressive dogs

It’s an opportune time for a new park to open in Denver, particularly in a core urban neighborhood like Capitol Hill. Johnson and fellow park rangers have been speaking up publicly about the amount of off-leash dog violations being seen around the city.

A Denverite story earlier this month highlighted that off-leash complaints are the top park violation in Denver. Jodie Marozas, one of Johnson’s park rangers colleagues, spoke to Westword for a story about the city’s desire to crack down on off-leash “dog parties” where groups of dog owners meet in city parks and let their dogs run free.

Even a dog owner who lets their pet off leash in a wide open field far away from any other people in Cheesman Park could be making the park less welcome to other users, Johnson emphasized. If a family with small children or someone who had a traumatic experience with dogs in their past sees that from a distance that may make that person wary of returning.

“It does not make the park inclusive for everybody of all shapes and sizes,” Johnson said.

As outlined in the numbers Johnson provided to Denverite, park rangers favor an education-first approach to off-leash dog violations.

In 2021, city crews logged 8,557 total “contacts” for people whose dogs were off-leash where they should not have been. Of those, 3,232, nearly 38%, were handled with a verbal warning. Only 231 ended in tickets, which start at $100. (More than 2,000 of those violators either ran away or couldn’t be contacted for some other reason.)

District 10 city councilman Chris Hinds is a dog lover and on Monday shared his excitement about finally having a dog park in Capitol Hill, a portion of his district where he knows off-leash dogs complaints are common in unsanctioned areas like Governors’ Park.

More than a third of households in Capitol Hill don’t own a car, Hinds said. The nearest of the city’s 12 existing dog parks — found in Sonny Lawson Park near the intersection of 24th and California streets — is roughly 1.5 miles away.

“It’s in the right spot. It’s in the heart of one of the densest neighborhoods in the city,” Hinds said of the Quality Hill dog park. “We want to make sure that if we are going to ding people for not following the rules we give people reasonable options to follow the rules.”

Prior to Monday, Quality Hill Park had been surrounded by barricades, closed to the public since mid-November due to rampant drug activity and violence there, according to city officials.

Scott Gilmore, Denver’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said that when he visited the park last fall to document some of the activity there, he was chased by a man wielding a pole and suffered an injury to his hand defending himself.

The community-driven program that helped transform the park into an off-leash dog area dates back to a 2019 update to the city’s dog park master plan. The parks department announced in May that another location suggested through that process, Veterans Park, located on East Iowa Avenue just west of University Boulevard, was not going forward because there was not enough community support.

Two other permanent dog parks, one along Sanderson Gulch in the southwestern part of the city and another along Central Street on the west side of downtown, are moving forward, Gilmore said.

When it comes to Quality Hill, Gilmore is counting the opening of the dog park as a big win for a property that had previously been a sore point for neighbors and park rangers.

“We need to find positive outcomes for challenging public spaces like this,” he said.

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