Why Heather Park?

    The People, Parks and Dogs Strategy identified the importance of providing off-leash areas (OLAs) within a 15-minute walk for most residents. An OLA at Heather Park will increase access for dog off-leash activity in two priority neighbourhoods that are currently underserved. Heather Park has suitable space and amenities that a fenced off-leash area could be added while maintaining space for other activities.

    Who is leading the project?

    The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is leading the project.

    How can I stay updated about the project?

    How can I get involved/receive future off-leash area updates?

    Sign up for email updates about dog related projects by selecting the tab "Email sign up for OLA updates" on the main Shape Your City page for this project.

    What are the priority neighborhoods for off-leash areas?

    In an effort to provide equitable distribution of OLAs within the city, the locations for new OLAs are determined based on the prioritization of underserved areas as defined in the strategy. Areas identified as highest priority based on combined assessments and ranked in order of priority by survey respondents were:

    • 47% Kitsilano
    • 45% Mount Pleasant
    • 35% Downtown
    • 33% West End
    • 32% Grandview-Woodland
    • 19% Fairview

    What is the People, Parks and Dogs Strategy?

    The People, Parks & Dogs Strategy (2017) provides a framework to deliver well-planned and designed parks with dog off-leash areas that ensure the comfort and safety of all park users with recommendations within four themes – access, design, stewardship and enforcement. Through mapping and analysis, the strategy identified six neighbourhoods considered deficient in dog off-leash areas. Through this strategy, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is committed to providing equitable access across the city and improving access to OLAs.

    Public engagement is an important part in implementing the recommendations of the strategy. Input from all park users will help to ensure the successful renewal of this well-used amenity, while supporting a safe and comfortable experience for all park users, with and without dogs.

    Heather Park used to be a designated park for dogs off-leash. Why was the designation removed?

    In 1998, a city-wide program of designated park sites for dog off-leash use was established and Heather Park was included. When designated as an off-leash site, Heather Park represented a location where there was an expressed need due to the number of dogs and owners.

    The 1998 dog off-leash program identified specific criteria for off-leash site selection. While Heather Park fit some of the criteria, there were community concerns that the park’s size, playground, and intensity of use did not lend itself to being a suitable site for off-leash use. In response to concerns, an engagement process began in 2000 to try to reduce the impact of off-leash use at Heather Park. As a result of that engagement, a site at Queen Elizabeth Park was added to the off-leash area program in an effort to reduce the number of dogs at Heather Park. We learned from residents that, although there were concerns, there were also many benefits to the community to allow use of Heather Park as an off-leash area. To address concerns, a variety of solutions were suggested, however the community remained split on their support of an off-leash area in the park.

    Staff also identified that the off-leash designation of the whole park had caused significant damage to the turf and that if the off-leash designation were to remain, the park would require periodic closures for maintenance and repairs. These concerns, the availability of three dog off-leash sites (Oak Meadows Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Nat Bailey Stadium) within a reasonable distance, and the ongoing division within the community, led staff to recommend that the designation of off-leash use at Heather Park be removed. The Park Board directed staff to remove the off-leash designation in June 2002.

    Why add an off-leash area to Heather Park, after it was removed?

    In the past 20 years, the need for OLAs has increased significantly across the city. The People, Parks and Dogs Strategy developed in 2017 has identified this area as a high priority for new OLAs and Heather Park is one of the best parks to accommodate it. There is also demonstrated public support for adding an OLA back into Heather Park at this time.

    The previous OLA designation was for the whole park, which ultimately caused significant issues with the turf. This new proposal is to establish a fenced area with a specific surface that will be determined to maintain usability, while keeping maintenance costs down for the rest of the park. This will serve both the needs of dog owners and other park users.

    How the People Parks and Dogs Strategy is guiding this work:

    In 2017, the People, Parks and Dogs Strategy (PPD) was approved by the Park Board to help deliver carefully designed parks for people with and without dogs. Informed by over 7,000 stakeholder interactions, the strategy recommendations fall into themes including access and design. 

    Access

    The strategy recommends providing neighbourhood off-leash areas (OLAs) within a 15-minute walk for most residents. We are proposing off-leash areas at Heather Park and Granville Park at the same time. Both parks are in underserved areas for OLAs and together they will serve three priority neighbourhoods identified by the strategy - Kitsilano, Fairview and Mount Pleasant. Having two new OLAs and the Charleson Park OLA (2001) serving similar neighbourhoods will help to distribute off-leash dog use. As our network of off-leash areas grow, OLAs will become more equitably distributed across the city and use will be spread out more evenly.

    Design

    The strategy recommends that we provide a variety of dog off-leash areas with clear and effective boundaries, to support the needs of people with and without dogs in parks with OLAs. The People, Parks and Dogs Strategy identifies five types of dog off-leash areas to provide a variety of off-leash opportunities based on: size, surface materials, amenities and boundary tools. 

    • Size: The size of the proposed OLA at Heather Park has been influenced by available space, adjacent park and neighbourhood uses, and the comfort and safety of all. The size and location of the OLA ensures that much of the lawn remains open for other activities. 
    • Surface materials: Intensity of use at each off-leash area is considered when deciding on surface materials. Other considerations include appeal to park users, comfort and safety for dogs and cost. By locating the OLA away from the existing tree canopies along Willow Street, we can reduce the amount of leaf debris in the OLA. Leaf debris would degrade the surface and create on-going maintenance challenges. We are working closely with our maintenance teams to identify a suitable surface while also keeping the public’s preference in mind. To reduce the number and duration of OLA maintenance shutdowns required, choosing a durable surface that is easy to maintain is very important.
    • Amenities: A variety of standard and special amenities support and attract use at dog off-leash areas, and help keep dogs out of on-leash areas. By including agility features in the OLA, we can maximize the value of the space by providing different exercise options for dogs.
    • Boundary tools: The strategy identified adjacent park and neighbourhood uses that are compatible and less compatible. Clearly defining the secure boundary of the OLA with a fence minimizes potential conflict with adjacent park and neighbourhood uses, existing site features, and site circulation.