By MARC MONAGHAN
In the spring of 2014, Todd Agosto took it upon himself to convert two little-if-ever-used, weed-ridden tennis courts on the east side of Jackson Park near the Music Court Bridge into Jackson Bark, the first dog park on Chicago’s South Side.
It was the only dog park until May 4, 2019, when 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King broke ground on two Dog Friendly Areas in her ward, the closest of the two situated a little over three miles away at 3906 S. Lake Park Ave.
When asked how he got started, Agosto explained that he saw a need and available space. “Most [tennis courts] are concrete, these actually have rebar running through [them]. So that explains why they have lasted so long,” he said. “And, the way I saw it was, these were already our tax dollars long ago spent for a different purpose, but we need a dog park. So why not up-cycle it, convert it into a dog park.”
According to Agosto, Jackson Bark is a community dog park and not an agility dog park. This was a very important distinction for Agosto. He explained that some dog owners avoid agility dog parks because they cost money and often have more rules.
“I didn’t know anything about agility, “said Agosto, “and I didn’t even care about agility, but I felt with all this space, it would be a shame to not fully utilize it, to do something with it, at least create some photo-ops. Agility, it lends itself [not only to being] useful, but also [to photo-ops].”
“So yeah, when I came in here, the grass line was right up to the fence, and there were all sorts of vines growing up along the fence,” Agosto said. “all the drains were clogged; I even had a small tree growing out of one of them, and then these cracks [pointing at cracks in the concrete slabs that had been the surface of the former tennis court] had a whole bunch of weeds and small trees. And it probably took me a couple of months just to clear it out of all that.”
As he spoke, one dog owner coaxed his dog over a tall A-Frame structure in the middle one of the park’s two exercise areas. When needed, access between the two areas can be closed, allowing dogs of different temperaments to exercise in different areas.
Agosto explained that use of the park is increasing gradually. “Probably one of the best gauges I have on determining our numbers is the amount of photos, videos and reviews we have, but also the hits to the website,” he said. “Because we have, I have, a tracker on the website. And then, obviously, when the weather is nice, [that’s] when we get the most people to come out, and weekends. But we’ve had people come from all over, I mean come as far southeast as Whiting and Hammond, Indiana, as far southwest as Joliet, as far west as, let’s say Wheaton, Oak Park, as far north as Evanston. Some of these people are actually surrounded by dog parks, but they come here.”
Agosto described his relationship with the Park District as “organic.”
“I just assumed in that first month [that] they probably would’ve taken the first thing I dragged in here out,” he said. “After a few months I figured, ‘Oh there would be a padlock on the gates soon.’ Never happened. Occasionally the security guys stop by and talk to me, they are all very cool and laid back.”
Jackson Bark is located near the Music Court Bridge in Jackson Park and, according to the Jackson Bark website, www.jacksonbark.com, the dog park is open 7 days a week from 6 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.