Growing up on the edge of a Pennsylvania state park with hundreds of acres of woods and rolling hills, I spent hours exploring nature with the family dogs in every kind of weather. I’ve kept my love of dogs and I like the weather better here, but I’ve always bemoaned the lack of dog-friendly parks. We do have five fenced-in paw parks where your pet can play leash-free, but standing around with a bunch of other dogs and owners wasn’t the kind of natural adventure I wanted.
I got my wish on Jan. 1, when Sarasota County opened most of its parks to dogs, for a total of 71 parks where you can commune with nature and your four-footed friend. (Myakka River State Park, Oscar Scherer State Park and Myakka State Forest are also dog-friendly.) Dogs must be licensed, on a six-foot leash, be fairly obedient and their owners must be conscientious—poop bags are a must.
I took my barely obedient German shepherd puppy, Leda, to the 300-acre-plus Celery Fields off Fruitville Road, just east of I-75. Granted, it doesn’t have the big trees and streams of my childhood walks—or the coveted shade of many of Sarasota County’s other parks—but it has a steep 60-foot hill, which is a good workout for you and a good way to wear out an energetic dog. The hill was created from fill when the county dredged part of the park for storm water retention. A gravel path gets you to the top without any slipping. The hill is a magnet for exercisers, and you’ll see lots of dogless runners and walkers huffing and puffing their way up, too.
The payoff comes at the top. The summit is flat and ringed with a nice path and trees, and you get a panoramic view of the Sarasota Audubon’s Visitor and Nature Center and the surrounding area. The paths at the Celery Fields connect to other trails, says Sarasota County Parks and Recreation manager and dog lover Carolyn Brown, which makes this park a favorite for dog owners who want a longer, more adventurous hike.
More to Try
Phillippi Estate Park. This scenic park is located on South Tamiami Trail and provides shade and waterfront access. The Phillippi Farmhouse Market runs every Wednesday, October through April, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it’s a great place to socialize a dog and shop for produce.
Potter Park. This is a 37-acre neighborhood park in Palmer Ranch, just behind the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA, with lots of trees and great shade in a beautiful, natural setting with trails.
Shamrock Park. Located in South County, this park includes rare scrub habitat and a 1.2-mile multiuse natural and paved trail that connects to the Venetian Waterway Trail and eventually, the 10.6-mile Legacy Trail.
Urfer Family Park. With a playground, athletic fields, fitness trail and one-mile nature trail in pine flatwoods on the corner of Honore Avenue and Bee Ridge Road, Urfer is a great place to take the kids and the dogs. Only a small part of the park is designated dog-friendly, so pay attention to the signs.
Nathan Benderson Park. Close to University Town Center, Nathan Benderson Park gives dogs and their owners a three-mile loop around a 400-acre lake built for rowing competitions. Little shade, but in the cooler months, it’s a beautiful walk. And if you time it right, you can either avoid or watch the rowing competitions.
Check out all the dog-friendly parks at the county website, scgov.net/parks.