In this series I will discuss examples of four types of dog parks:
Part I - Shaggy Pines - a private membership-based park
Part II - Hillcrest Park - a public dog park
Part III - Kruse Park - a public beach that allows dogs
Part IV - Lowell State Game Area - forested state landEach has its benefits and drawbacks, and I discuss those as well as my experiences taking dogs to each type of park.
The Lowell State Game Area is a patchwork of state land in west Michigan totaling 1,837 acres of mostly forest. The primary purpose of any state game area is to provide a managed place of public hunting, so it might seem odd to list it as a dog park. Similar to the public beach at Kruse Park, the Lowell State Game Area was created for humans but it allows dogs to enjoy the land as well.
As long as you’re not hunting or camping within the Lowell State Game Area, the rules governing your dogs are pretty simple: there are none. Dogs must be on a leash at any designated camping area and dogs may not be used for hunting or chasing animals unless the specific season for dog-hunting that specific animal is open. Otherwise the land is open for use by both dogs and humans for hiking and exploring the woods, even off-leash if you wish. This contrasts to the state recreation areas which require dogs to be leashed at all times unless participating in organized field trials.
Sounds like a dog hiker’s paradise? Not quite. The Lowell State Game Area is foremost a hunting “park” that is quite popular among local hunters. If you think that your dog could possibly be mistaken for a deer, turkey, duck, squirrel or other huntable game then you had better learn when the various hunting seasons are open so that your dog can avoid the trails during those dates. Since I wouldn’t trust a hunter to distinguish my yellow labs from a deer, I don’t take my dogs there during firearm season. We sometimes run the trails during bow and arrow season but only while both myself and the dogs are wearing bright orange and I don’t let my dogs get too far away from me.
Hopefully this doesn’t scare anyone from considering a state game area for use as a dog park because outside of specific hunting seasons, they are wonderful places to hike or run with your dogs. The Lowell State Game Area is large and seldom used, meaning that my dogs and I usually have the entire forest to ourselves on a hike. We do have to share it with the deer, woodpeckers, rabbits, and other animals but that’s part of the enjoyment.
Such a rich and peaceful natural setting is one of the reasons why the North Country Trail winds through much of the Lowell State Game Area. Hikers and sometimes horses use the North Country Trail year-round and it’s the only maintained trail in the game area aside from a few access roads used by the Department of Natural Resources. Most of the time my dogs and I are using the North Country Trail route rather than bushwhacking through the undergrowth.
The Lowell State Game Area is quite diverse. You and your dogs can experience tall pine forests, oak groves, open meadows, small streams and even the large Flat River all along just a few miles of North Country Trail. Take care to avoid certain hunting seasons and such tracts of state land are some of the best kept secrets for those seeking a secluded off-leash dog park.
Photos: Andrew & Amanda Schrauben