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Archive for the category “Parks”

Terry Hershey Park: Like Our City, It’s Always Growing

When I was a kid, Terry Hershey Park was a one and a half mile loop just west of Eldridge Parkway off of Memorial Drive. Soon, an extra loop was added that was accessed under Memorial and headed towards I-10. At the time, my mom would run the loop while I rolled around on my rollerblades or walked our Airedale terrier.

Terry Hershey Park path and the Buffalo Bayou

Today, Terry Hershey Park is nearly 12 1/2 miles and growing. According to their website, they plan to start a trail north of I-10 to the Addicks Dam. For the inner loop resident, is the trek out to West Houston to TH worth it? Absolutely!

As a multi-dog mom, I find the best time to go is late morning to early afternoon on weekdays. If I have someone walking with me, then the time is more flexible. Single dog parents, bikers, and runners can go anytime. I opt for late morning to early afternoon because I want my dogs, others on the path, and me to enjoy TH to the fullest. If we go at a busy bike time or right when families are going for walks, it makes things tougher on everyone. Instead of doing the intervals we enjoy (fast walk, medium speed, stop and smell every blade of grass, and potty speed), we would have to be more collected and stay out of people’s way.

Daisy's following her nose as usual.

The trail follows along the Buffalo Bayou and is paved. We typically park near Beltway 8 and walk to Kirkwood and back (5.39 miles). One of the great things about TH is never having to set foot on the street and watch for cars. The path winds with the bayou, up and down hills, and under major north and south streets. If you are heading west, the bayou is on your left. On your right, you’ll find all the extras: huge meadows great for a dog to roll or play ball, playgrounds, and benches. West Houston has really focused on making TH an important part of the landscape and neighborhood culture.

Oliver & Buckley are really curious about the bayou.

There are only two real downsides to TH: few water fountains and crazy cyclists. I always carry water with me on this trail, making the first problem a non-issue. The cyclists here are even faster and crazier than those riding through TC Jester Park. Part of the problem is the terrain. Although the path is  paved, there are numerous steep hills with tight turns. Due to the trees, you can’t see if someone is coming around the bend too late. I always make sure my dogs are very close to me at these points.

Lily's grabbing a mid-walk drink from the doggy bottle.

You and your dogs can have a great walk here. If you don’t typically go on really long walks, be careful. Always remember that you have to turn around and walk back. I recommend walking 20-30 minutes, resting, and heading back if this will be your first visit to TH. Wear some sunscreen, grab some water, and lace up your shoes!

My crew getting ready to cross one of TH's bridges.

For more information on Terry Hershey Park, please visit http://www.terryhersheypark.org

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TC Jester Park: Houston’s Bag of Chex Mix

On Valentine’s Day, my four-legged loves and I headed to TC Jester Park. We had a good time, but that isn’t always the case. This has to be the most unpredictable park in Houston. It’s our bag of Chex Mix.

I love Cheddar Chex Mix. It’s my favorite road trip food, and my old VW Beetle had cheesy fingerprints on the steering wheel by the time my Virginia to Texas trips were over. The problem with Chex Mix, however, is that some of that processed cheese goodness is incredible, and sometimes you pull out some dull tasting cracker. You never know what’s going to happen when you put your hand in that bag, and TC Jester Park is equally unpredictable.

The girls can't wait to get the walk started.

Cheddar Chex Mix has triangle-shaped cheese crackers and Chex Mix cereal covered in powdered cheese. These two pieces are the most coveted pieces in the mix. Rejoice if you find one in your hand. At TC Jester Park, the well-groomed paths, mostly kind people, Texas wildflowers along the bayou, and the many different activities you, your family, and your dogs can enjoy are the cheese crackers and cheese covered cereal of the park. There are two full Frolf (frisbee golf) courses, a public pool, playground, exercise station, baseball field, picnic tables, and dog park.

My dogs always enjoy doing a full lap on both of the paths, often switching from the paved to the dirt path and taking time to roll in the grass. There are always plenty of dog owners out for a run, walk, or headed to the dog park. I have noticed lots of the dog owners here are more in tune with their dogs and dog behavior than in other parks, which I appreciate. You see a lot of hardcore dog owners at TC Jester.

The boys checking out some dogs in the distance.

There is a dry piece of Chex Mix cereal in the Cheddar Chex Mix bag, and I can only imagine that it’s there as a palate cleanser. It is pretty tasteless alone, but if you grab it with the cheddar pieces it compliments them. There are parts of TC Jester park that are just as mediocre, at least for the dog owner.

The dog park portion of the park opened in late spring 2011, and both the large and small dog sections were originally covered in mulch. After some complaints about the pain that could cause puppy paws, the mulch is much more sparse now. After even a light rain, the park is pure mud. Depending on the dog, that can be good or bad. Or maybe that depends on how much you worry about your car’s interior. The dog owners here are much more involved  than at other parks. You rarely see people lounging and talking. They do talk to each other, but friendships are built while throwing tennis balls for the dogs and sharing dog training tips. This is definitely a park where lots of caring pet parents bring their pups.

The path leading towards the dog park

There are other downsides to the park, aside from the dwindling mulch and mud. We once had a problem with a man sitting outside the park and throwing his half-eaten fried chicken, bone included, into the park. He didn’t like my requests to stop, despite my explanation of the dangers for the dogs. There is also trash left frequently, the trash can is outside of the park (requiring you to leave your dog when you throw away his poop), and the gates to each side of the park have been damaged or completely off their hinges more than once.

Oliver hunting a squirrel in the small dog park

The remaining two pieces in the Cheddar Chex Mix have no place in that bag. Why are they there? One of them is about an inch long, white, and a cross between a cracker and a pretzel. The other is the worst tasting pretzel…ever. And I love pretzels. So what can we do without at TC Jester Park? My top two are bikers and trash.

Mondays are the worst day to visit this park because of the giant crowds that flock here over the weekend. There are picnics, parties, and baseball games. On Monday, the trash cans are overflowing, confetti is stuck in the grass, and I am constantly trying to keep my dogs from picking up leftover food. It’s really great that Houston families are spending time outdoors together, but the park is absolutely trashed.

The other nuisance is bikers. White Oak Bayou runs along the park, and there is a bike trail (the paved trail) that begins at 11th St. and TC Jester and ends near 43rd St. Sometimes you’ll meet a family or a couple who are on a bike ride on a sunny day. These bikers are not the problem. The hardcore cyclists are, and they do not care about signs instructing them to yield to pedestrians. Two of my dogs are terrified of bikes, and being run off the path by rude and speeding cyclists has only escalated their fear. I think the bikers should be allowed to ride as fast as they please on all of the White Oak Bayou Trail except the small portion that runs through the park. There are often toddlers, dogs, and families on the path, and the bikers can be dangerous.

Practicing for the Tour de France

When you put the gross pretzel and cracker, the dry cereal, and the pieces covered in cheese together, you have a great snack. Sure, I almost always leave the pieces I don’t like at the bottom of the bag, but they are still a part of Cheddar Chex Mix. They’re the mix part. Whenever I’m loading my dogs in the car and deciding where to go, I always have mixed feelings about TC Jester. Am I going to get a clean, drama and cyclist free walk? Am I going to have to pull chewed chicken out of my dogs’ mouths? What will the walk hold? It’s a mixed bag.

 

Houston Arboretum: Heaven for a Dog’s Senses

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a gift to our city’s children and dogs. It’s certainly a gift to the wildlife that call it home. The entrance is off of Woodway in Memorial Park, and it’s been a favorite spot of mine for years.

Sign at the entrance on Woodway

Visitor's Center: a must see for kids

My dogs and I hit these trails on each of their birthdays and as often as we can throughout the year. They are allowed a much looser leash here than if we were walking in a neighborhood so that they can experience all the trails have to offer their senses.

What to bring: water, leashes, doggy bags, durable shoes. What to leave at home: Your worries and your to-do list.

A Few Simple Rules: Let your dog's (and your) curiosity run wild, but please don't jog or bike here. Both will scare wildlife.

To help protect plants and wildlife, please stay on the well-maintained paths.

Let's go, Mom!

The Arboretum is extremely well-cared for by volunteers and through donations. The paths are clearly marked, and you can pick one route or switch trails as often as you please.

Signs like this one mark all the different trails

In the spring, you will find a huge field filled with wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty, but please respect them and just admire them from a distance.

One of my favorite things about walking these trails is never knowing what we’ll find. Sometimes we end up walking along the wildflower field, and other times we are slowly walking down a winding path along trickling water. Today, we found a pond filled with turtles.

The boys checking out the action in the pond.

The girls are in sensory overload and not sure what to smell or watch next.

Buckley really wanted to know what was moving in the water. He was fascinated!

The logs in the pond were covered with snoozing turtles.

Any dog trainer will emphasize that an exercised dog is a well-behaved dog. As a pet sitter, I can tell how often a dog is walked before I even get the leash on him, and my guess is only confirmed as we head around the block. When a client tells me that their dog chews shoes, door jams, and their favorite books, it’s clear to me that he is bored and needs more exercise. What I learned through dog psychology books and caring for many dogs, including my own, is that mental exercise can be just as important as physical exercise to a dog.

The Houston Arboretum is exercise for every single one of a dog’s senses. The long strolls 0n winding paths fulfill their need for physical exercise. The sights and sounds of the forest grab their attention. The smells drive their noses wild. There are plants and animals a city dog has never smelled in the Arboretum, thrilling a dog’s sense of smell. As a cautious dog mom, I try to make sure they don’t taste anything but the tiny treats that are in my pocket.

Lily enjoyed smelling this plant, and I stayed close by to make sure she didn't take a bite.

No matter what the season, the Houston Arboretum is always beautiful.

I truly believe that the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a gift to the city of Houston, particularly children and dogs. Oliver, Buckley, Daisy, and Lily would certainly agree. It is fascinating to watch them discover, smell, watch birds in the trees, and then fall asleep in the car ride home. For me, a sense of calm comes over me while hiking in the Arboretum. It’s probably a mixture of the trees, leaves, and watching my own pack in a more natural state that calms me. Whatever it is, it’s a welcome feeling, and I am always thankful for our trips to the Arboretum.

Oliver and Buckley must see something pretty exciting out there.

Daisy and Lily conducting a tree stump investigation.

To the volunteers and staff at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, my pack and I give you many thanks!

Taking it all in...

 

Heights Blvd.: Dog Lovers, Runners, and Walkers Unite!

Heights Boulevard is known for gorgeous Victorian homes, and it is also a major north-south street in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. For Heights’ residents, it is also a great exercise spot.

Heights Boulevard has a well-cared for and wide esplanade that divides north and south traffic. The esplanade feels like a bubble of nature in the middle of a busy street, and you often forget where you are (be careful!). There is a winding trail with the same material as Memorial Park’s running loop.

Oliver and Buckley taking a break on the Heights Boulevard esplanade.

My two favorite things about Heights Boulevard have to do with the people. First of all, it seems to be the only spot where runners are courteous to walkers and dog walkers. Everyone smiles as they pass each other. Even though hearing forms of  “Wow! You have your hands full!” from passersby is rather annoying, it still shows the kind of neighborly feel that draws people to the Heights. Second, there is a shared hatred for the periodic biker on the trail. Most trails are easily overtaken by bike riders, which is both difficult and dangerous for the dog walker. On Heights Boulevard, however, runners and walkers are not afraid to let a cyclist know they have their own designated lane on the street.

Heights Boulevard starts on 3rd St and continues to 20th. On each end, you’ll find a water fountain and benches. You can park anywhere on the sides with marked parallel spots. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much care Heights residents put into keeping this area clean and beautifully landscaped. Although there are plenty of trash cans, there are no doggy bag dispensers. Please do your part to keep the esplanade clean, and bring your own bags to clean up after your pup.

Daisy taking a drink from the dog fountain on 11th St and Heights Blvd. This fountain is pretty clean because the water is constantly flowing and draining.

This is a must for anyone who lives close by. No one cares if you want to slowly stroll or work on your marathon time. If your dog is young or not very social, then I recommend you visit in the afternoon when its least busy. The esplanade is busiest in the evening with people working out after work. You also have plenty of grass areas to go to if you need to regroup with your pup. When there are lots of dogs out, I will often hop across the street and walk on the sidewalk closer to the homes. A dog rescue often does adoptions on Saturday mornings, and I avoid walking here on that day. That’s too stressful on a pup, especially a pack of four.

The one major caution may seem obvious, but if you watch the news, it must not be. At each east-west street, there is a street crossing. Please stop and watch for cars. This is a great spot to put your dog in a “sit” and have him wait and watch you for the cue to keep going.

Heights Blvd and 7th St. Another bike/hike trail crosses at 7th St.

Enjoy yourself, and if you are not a Heights resident, welcome!

 

Memorial Park: Houston’s Inner Loop Oasis

Memorial Park is known to all Houstonians. Runners love the loop, families enjoy all the picnic areas, and mountain bikers have trails that will fulfill their need for adrenaline. There are numerous soccer and baseball fields, as well as one of Houston’s nicest public golf courses. The tennis courts are also booked from open to close. With all of this activity, can dog lovers and their four-legged children enjoy the park, too? Absolutely!

When I was puppy mom to only Oliver, we often walked the loop that runner’s frequent. The path is just shy of 5k, at 2.88 miles, and it is busy all day. The path is sand and crushed granite, which is great on dog paws. Just be sure to check between your dog’s toes for any tiny rocks later. With just one dog, the loop is great. Two dogs are okay if they walk nicely at your side. Any more than that, and it would be best to walk in other parts of the 600 acre park. Memorial Park runners are notorious for being so focused that any walker, especially one with a dog enjoying all the smells, is very annoying. Be prepared for bad looks, or maybe worse.  This is definitely not the spot for walking on a loose leash. Of course, if you run with your dog this is a great place for you.

There are dog fountains attached to the people fountains every so often along the trail, and there are bowls placed by courteous citizens near the workout station in front of the tennis courts.

Now that I am blessed with four amazing pups, we never set foot on the official loop trail. Today, we visited Memorial Park, and we parked between the baseball fields and tennis courts. We walked across the street from the loop trail, heading towards Woodway/Picnic Ln. The path is wider, winds, and runs along the woods. There is also plenty of grass on one side to walk in if you feel like avoiding the path.

The grassy area is often full of lounging readers and frisbee games on sunny days. My pups and I use it for training purposes. Every 5-10 minutes, or whenever another dog is close by, we walk about fifteen feet into the grass and work on some “Watch” and “Sit” cues. Mixing training and a walk is a great way to break up the walk and make training more exciting.

Oliver and Buckley waiting for their reward for a perfect response to my "Watch!" command in Memorial Park today.

Our favorite spot is the Houston Arboretum, and that wonderful nature trail will get its own post. We go there on each of the dogs’ birthdays, and as often as we can otherwise.

Memorial Park is a must for any active person, dog lover, or family. No matter what you want to do, there is a spot for you. My pups always have a great time on our adventures in this well-cared for park.

For more information on Memorial Park, please visit the city’s website at: http://www.houstontx.gov/abouthouston/exploringmemorial.html

Happy walking!

 

Danny Jackson Dog Park (Westpark): Where the Pet PTA Meets

Dog parks are a blessing to the city dog, and Houston really puts pride in ours. For a long time, Oliver and I were regulars at Danny Jackson Dog Park on Westpark, near the intersection of 59 and 610.

Location of Danny Jackson Dog Park

In 2008, Oliver and I walked the Memorial Park loop, and then we headed to Westpark. We were regulars, but that particular day changed us. A beagle jumped in my lap while her sister and dad were nearby. Nearly four years later, those beagles are now my sweet little girls, and their dad is my boyfriend. We have great memories of the Westpark dog park because of that, but we do not enjoy going there anymore.

Many dog parents refer to this particular dog park as the one with a Pet PTA. A group arrives at nearly the same time, sets up chairs, and loudly chats and laughs while their dogs cause all sorts of trouble. We’re all glad they’re having a great time together, but the cost is their dogs’, and our dogs’, safety. This group is rarely involved in what their dogs are doing, and the PTA’s presence changes the dynamic of the small dog section.

The large dog section, however, is full of life and dogs flying into the water after tennis balls. If you have an athletic pup and don’t mind getting muddy, the large dog section is worth a visit. Grab your rain boots, a Chuck It!, and head over to Westpark!

Fun in the large dog section

The small dog section leads me to the importance of being a good pet parent at the dog park. When you take your two-legged kids to the playground, you watch everything they do, who they talk to, and play with them. Why not do the same with your four-legged kids?

Good dog park behavior is an article itself, but here is a list of ways to be a responsible pet parent while your pup is interacting with others:

1. Exercise your dog before  arriving. This allows him to be less energetic, aggressive, and nervous. He will have plenty of play energy left, but it will allow him to be a good buddy for others.

2. Stay within 20 feet of your dog. If a fight starts, you are not too far away to get your dog’s attention.

3. Toss the ball with your dog and his new friends.

4. Pick up your dog’s poop!

5. Every so often, call your dog so he knows you are still present and paying attention. It will help his energy level and training, too.

Please feel free to share any experiences at either the large or small sections at Danny Jackson Dog Park, and watch for reviews of all of Houston’s dog parks.

West 11th St Park: A Hidden Adventure

My pack and I have been Heights residents for a couple of years, and less than a month ago we stumbled upon a new spot less than 5 minutes from my house.

Near White Oak Bayou and TC Jester is W11th St.Park. Shelterwood and Shirkmere seem to be the best spots to park so as not to bother the quiet neighborhood’s residents. The park also meets on W11th, but your car will be towed if you park there.

Grab your pup, leashed, and head towards the woods. There are numerous entries into the woods, and the trails are clearly marked. The nature trails wind and bend, but it is a small trail. My pups and I take every turn, trying to stay in the wooded area as long as possible, and we’re able to stretch the walk to about 30 minutes.

We highly recommend W11th St Park. Walking on nature trails is both physical and mental exercise for city dogs. Their noses are planted on the ground, and they all listen to every noise in the trees. A dog needs time to be a dog, and nature trails help them do just that.

Enjoy this hidden adventure in the city!

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