Oakhurst Dog Park

Save the Forest. Save the Dog Park.

Author: charleswilli (page 1 of 2)

April 14th Planning Commission Meeting Postponed to May 5th

Just six hours before tonight’s scheduled Decatur Planning Commission meeting, Todd Prinkey of Weaver Capital Partners sent the following email:


This email is to let you and the rest of the group know that we have asked for a deferral from tonight’s Planning Commission meeting. There are a few reasons, but mostly we have additional options to present to the City of Decatur and the neighborhood at large, and we don’t believe that those options can be sufficiently discussed in the short time we have.

We have also requested to be put on next month’s calendar for the May 12th hearing, and we believe that in the next 30 days there will be ample opportunity to work together to finalize an end result of our continuing and collective good-faith negotiating efforts.

Please pass along the word to the other neighborhood constituents who aren’t reached by this email. We will reach out to you likely next week to arrange another meeting to discuss our latest thoughts.



“…productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

ODBinAutumnThe title of this post is an excerpt from the mission statement of the Boys & Girls Club of America. The full mission statement is: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

How is this mission compatible with the destruction of the last forested area in Decatur? A forest the Boys & Girls Club owns and controls. A forest they want to sell to a developer who plans to cut down the trees and build two houses on the land.

It’s short term gain for a long-term loss.

The Oakhurst Forest and dog park is used my hundreds of locals every day of the year. If you want to understand what “…productive, caring, responsible citizens” looks like in action, come to the park some morning and witness it for yourself. You’ll find a community of people who have spent thousands of volunteer hours taking care of the forest. And each other.


It’s the real Town Square of Oakhurst where discussions of politics, culture and love dominate. Where new dog owners are welcomed without hesitation. The collective wisdom of life with dogs is shared freely and checked against popular myth.  It’s real here.

Save this forest and dog park so we can continue to be the productive, caring, responsible citizens we all need.


Dogs, Collars, and Safety

By Sara Nicol (Rio’s mom)

IMG_2608Does your dog walk you when you walk her? My dog does. And if we see a squirrel while we’re out for a walk, forget it. I’d be eating asphalt if it weren’t for her no-pull harness.

There are lots of tools we use as dog owners to try to keep us and our dogs safe: no pull harnesses, prong collars, martingale collars, and “choke chain” collars. These types of collars and harnesses can be a life-saver on walks. But in the dog park? They are all a danger. To the dogs wearing them and to the dogs they play with.

Each year thousands of dogs die in collar accidents that are entirely preventable. Google collar and choking, and you will read horror story after horror story of dogs dying from collar accidents. In the dog park, “choke chains” and prong collars are especially dangerous. Imagine a dog’s lower jaw slipping underneath that collar and getting snagged there… not good. The dog wearing the collar gets choked to death. The dog with its jaw caught gets badly injured.

The article below by Nancy Kerns (originally published by Whole Dog Journal in their May 2013 issue) explains why collars are dangerous and makes some great suggestions about how to make your dog’s play experience safer.

The bottom line for the Oakhurst Dog Park is this:

  • Let your dog play “naked” if you can control your dog with your voice. (When you see Rio and me at the dog park, you’ll always find Rio without a collar.)
  • If you use a prong collar or “choke chain” to walk your dog, ALWAYS remove it before you enter the dog park.
  • Intervene! If you see someone hasn’t removed a prong collar or chain collar, ask them to remove it and explain why. You’re doing everyone a favor by keeping all the dogs in the dog park safe.
  • If you see two dogs tangled up together by a nylon or leather collar, run to the first aid kit near the dog park entrance. There you’ll find a pair of scissors that can be used to cut away a collar in an emergency.


Take It All Off!

Five things you can do to protect your dog.

By Nancy Kerns


I was pretty traumatized recently by a phenomenon I had heard about many times but had never before seen: the intense, chaotic, life-or-death struggle that ensues when one dog gets his jaw stuck in another dog’s collar.

It happened to some dogs that live a few houses down from my home office. I was working at my computer when I heard a dog screaming. I leaped up from my desk and ran down the sidewalk toward the screaming.

It was two young Lab-mixes in the front yard of a house down the street. One had grabbed his friend’s collar and then mostly likely rolled over, twisting his lower jaw in the collar. His tongue, trapped under the thick nylon, was being lacerated by his own lower teeth; he was the one making all the noise.

His buddy was not screaming; he was fighting for his life, and being choked to death by his own collar. Both dogs were thrashing in pain and fear. The owner of one dog was trying to get close enough to them to free them, and I tried to help.

I grabbed one dog by the scruff; she grabbed the other. I frantically ran my hands through the mass of writhing fur, trying to find a buckle on the collar. I felt a quick-release buckle and released it – but it was the wrong one, not the collar that was threatening their lives.

Then I saw the other buckle; it was in the mouth of the dog whose jaw was trapped. And it was a standard metal buckle – the kind that you have to tighten slightly to free the metal prong from a hole punched in the nylon fabric. It was already so tight, there would be no way to tighten it enough to release it, if I even could get my hand in the dog’s mouth.

Just then, the owner of the other dog ran out of the house with a pair of scissors. I was doubtful that they could cut through the thick nylon, but they did. And in the nick of time! Even as the young woman worked, feverishly, the dog who was choking released his bowels. He was seconds from death.

Imagine what would have happened if that young woman hadn’t had the scissors handy. Or if the same thing happened at a dog park; maybe someone would have had a sharp-enough knife. What if the dog had been wearing a choke chain or pinch collar? I’ve seen dogs wearing these while playing at dog parks – but I’ve never seen a person there with bolt cutters.

These dogs survived the experience. But since I’ve been telling my friends about my experience (with all the fervor of the recently converted), I’ve heard about a number of dogs whose jaws were broken in similar situations – and other dogs who didn’t survive an experience like this. Don’t let it happen to your dog!

Here are five things you can do to keep your dog safe when he’s playing with other dogs.

  1. Play Naked! Remove your dog’s collar or harness. A harness may not present the same choking hazard as a collar if another dog got tangled in it, but on the other hand, a harness has many more straps to get caught in.
  2. Use a Collar With a Quick-Release Buckle. If you’re nervous about having your dog naked (and without ID), use a collar with a buckle that can be released even under tension. Another option is a safety breakaway collar, such as Premier Pet Product’s KeepSafe Break-Away Collar.
  3. Don’t Allow Your Dog to Play With Dogs Who Are Wearing Gear. At times, this may mean your dog won’t be able to play at a dog park, because it’s nearly impossible to get everyone to comply with sensible rules at a dog park. If I had a young dog who really liked wrestling and mouthing other dogs, I just wouldn’t take him to a dog park that was crowded with collar- and harness-wearing dogs. Not after what I saw.
  4. Spread The Word. I’m now telling every dog owner I know about the way, the truth, and the light. Many people have never considered this potential hazard and may be open to hearing about how they can prevent a tragedy happening to their dogs.
  5. Keep Something Sharp Handy. This is quite a long shot – and yet, I now know a young woman who saved two dogs’ lives with sharp scissors. I now have a box cutter in my car, and another one on a shelf near my office door. I hope to never witness this again, but I feel a little better knowing that there would be more I could do to help.

Ethics of the Boys & Girls Club and the Environment

This message is from Kat Ballard, who posted it on our Change.org petition.
If you agree, please contact the Boys and Girls Club today and ask them not to sell the forest for development.


“I visited this dog park for the first time yesterday and the dogs LOVED it. I am a dog sitter by profession and am all over Metro Atlanta.

One of the things I love about Atlanta is the green space in the city. There are some good dog parks out there, but most do not have a safe place for the dogs to run freely in a wooded area. Just getting to be dogs. Once the mature woods are gone, they are gone.

I was in the scouts as a child. And I believe the city is sending a poor message to what the Boys & Girls Club is about. I can understand the need for the organization to get funding to help their organization. But, wouldn’t it send a better message if the city were to purchase the land, and the Boys & Girls Club could help maintain it? Or help them keep it. Or buy it outright and leave the green?

To take that area down is bad for the dogs, the neighborhood, the ethics of the Boys & Girls Club and the environment. There has to be an alternative to taking this down. Are we really only about money now? I want to be the person my dogs think I am. Don’t you?”

Hometown Heroes Richard Backwell and Lee Goldsmith

Nominated by: Greg White

Richard Backwell and Lee Goldsmith are considered the watchmen and champions for Oakhurst Dog Park on a daily basis. Richard became interested in the Oakhurst Dog Park because his dogs needed exercise and socialization and the Oakhurst Dog Park meet those needs. As one of the Dog Park champions, Richard was not able to do the heavy physical work but has taken on the interest of controlling vegetation in the Oakhurst Dog Park. He takes great pride in controlling the invasive plants and plays a key role in organizing other dog owners on Dog Park Work Days. He is well educated in the types of invasive plants and visits the park daily. Richard takes pride in making sure the facility is clean. He is the social dog owner that everyone knows. Richard is our other eye at the Oakhurst Dog Park along with his four dogs. Lee became interested in the Oakhurst Dog Park when his dog was a puppy. Since Lee was going daily, he adopted the mindset of wanting to make the Oakhurst Dog Park better and address the drainage issue. Lee is our champion because he had the idea of spreading mulch on the paths to control water run off. Lee is the organizer for work days – making signs, coordinating tools, providing snacks and encouraging dog owners to clean up behind their dogs. Lee is a key supporter of the park because he helps save the trees in the Oakhurst Dog Park from invasive species. Both Richard and Lee are quick to send emails to keep Decatur Active Living informed of maintenance issues. The communication that they provide makes our dog park system operate at a high level. Their spirit of volunteering and connecting dog owners is the Decatur way.

Lee Goldsmith’s Dog Park Redemption

Nearly 5 years ago, I was massively injured in a near fatal car wreck.  My small sporty Saturn was T-Boned while I was driving across Lawrenceville Hwy. I found and re-found myself (after mega-doses of drugs including a morphine overdose) at Grady hospital where i spent over 4 weeks in Intensive care and over 5 weeks all together.  I had 12 broken ribs with at least 18 total breaks, collapsed and damaged lungs, torn and ruptured spleen, and ditto on diaphragm.  I also had numerous other injuries and difficulties; broken wrist, slight concussion, hampered ankle etc, but after 2 major surgeries, an excised spleen and $350,000 in medical bills I went home. My mom hired a private nurse for me for the first couple weeks back home and i had lots and lots of friends come take care of me as I began to recover. The first time i went for a walk I was able to go from my front door to the mailbox and back but I needed someone with me.

I’m not fishing for sympathy here, but I’ll get some when i tell you that concurrent to the above experience, I: laid my father to rest, got divorced, had to move, put my cat to sleep and lost my new farmer’s market business.  On the good side of things, my community showed me amazing love and support, I am eternally grateful for that.

I moved from unincorporated Dekalb to Oakhurst so my son could go the the Decatur schools.  My cute girlfriend at the time (another good thing happening then,) got a dog and we started  visiting the oakhurst dogpark.  At the time, a drought was in effect and the dogpark was in dire shape.  There were 2  conditions  that the lower field was in 95% of the time- dusty or muddy.

My son and i  got a dog (Piper!) soon after and started walking more and more. I was definitely getting healthier and stronger and began visiting the dogpark on my own.  I began heading up into the forest part of the dogpark and was surprised and dismayed at the health of the forest.  While looking around one day, I saw a man whom i got to know well over the years, (Richard Backwell) cutting vines with some great gardening tools.  We spoke and agreed that we would both work towards healing the forest and, as a byproduct, the lower field.

I realized early on that I can help heal the forest at the same time that I healed myself.  I contacted the City  and requested that they bring woodchips.  LOADS and LOADS and LOTS and LOTS of woodchips.  I made a commitment to myself to load up and deliver 10 loads a day all over the park on every non-rainy day.  At first i was bringing my own wheelbarrow and shovel every day, but i eventually left them at the park and I bought new tools with my own money.  Day after day i went.  There was a 2 month stretch where I delivered 600 loads of chips!!!! Richard’s and my intention was to heal the forest so i brought the chips up to rebuild the soil.  In addition, there were so many vines choking the forest that the ground cover disappeared and very little water was staying on the hill when it did rain.  While Richard was cutting vines like Dr. Livingston in Africa (Where Richard was born,) I assisted where i could plus I spent my time and effort and re-energized muscles moving soil, leaves, vines, chip o’ wood and rocks.  I was conscious of feeling better physically.

The next step was healing mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually (It was a big step.) I got a small settlement from the wreck- not nearly enough for my pain and suffering (my attorney thought I should have gotten 10-20 times as much!,) but enough so that I didn’t need to work much and i could spend a lot of time healing.  While i did spend a lot of time/money/effort on chiropractors, massage therapists, yoga classes, acupuncture, therapy, etc. etc., one of my best and most effective healing spaces was and is the Oakhurst dogpark.  Hanging in the small canopied forest with fun, entertaining dogs (and their wonderful human companions) has been a true blessing for me. I have made lots of great friendships, did breathing exercises as i cut vines, began and continue to do art projects, laughed a lot and have grown to love the community of humans, dogs and trees.

Fast forward a bit.  At the end of 2013, Richard and i were nominated and selected to be “Decatur Hometown Heroes” for our work in the dog park. We received medals from the mayor and our photos are on the wall at City Hall. *Please see below for Hometown Hero blurb. I am felling well physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally (although my ex and a few others may deny a couple of those latter 3.  Oakhurst dogpark, on a daily basis, for everyone,  is a great place to be outdoors, to visit with one’s neighbors, to watch dogs play, to be in an urban forest and to heal oneself.

Woof woof, aaawwwwoooooooooooo.    Lee Goldsmith

A Letter to The Mayor From Our Hometown Heroes

Dear Mayor Baskett:

We ask that you join us in the effort to preserve the Oakhurst Dog Park forest, which has been a labor of love for many in the Oakhurst neighborhood and the City of Decatur. This half-acre is Oakhurst’s most breathtaking green space. It is a vibrant, diverse, dynamic, and evolving natural forest whose destruction affects the entire community.

This area of the park is more than simply a place for dogs. The Oakhurst Dog Park forest is home to old growth, medium growth, and hundreds of juvenile trees. It is a habitat for owls and other woodland creatures. The health of the forest also has a direct impact on the entire park, as soil and rainwater drainage maintenance are critical for keeping the lower area of the park from becoming unusable.

As a green space, it is inherently valuable to the community. Weekly traffic at the park is high: easily more than 600 visitors (even greater numbers during the summer months), and not only dog owners. Park visitors from the larger community use the forest on a daily basis. People come to do yoga, hike with their children, create art, and enjoy its beauty. Because of its tranquil atmosphere, the wooded area is a popular space for meditation. It is an outdoor workspace as well: laptop users are a regular sighting in the forest, as this section of the park is a refreshing alternative to working in a café or at home. In all, the forest is a genuine neighborhood sanctuary.

Recently, this neighborhood dog park has become high profile: Curbed Atlanta listed the Oakhurst Dog Park as the #3 dog park in Atlanta, specifically citing its wooded trails. Yelp Atlanta calls it a “hidden gem.” But this hidden gem is not just the next hip discovery on the hot lists. The forest is the result of community relationships and years of daily work. Its transformation into the thriving forest it is today happened because of the strong partnership between Oakhurst residents and the City of Decatur. It is a testament to the spectacular things that can happen when city government and individuals work together to build their community.

The Oakhurst Dog Park is a one hundred percent community-maintained little neighborhood park. We have established an excellent relationship with The City of Decatur. The city provides the resources: bags of wood chips, the park message board, a wheel barrow and rakes, poop bags, trash removal. It’s the park-goers who keep the grounds clear of trash and dog waste, and spread mulch over mud holes and around the bases of forest trees. This is a clean and well-cared for space, reflective of the value residents place on it. Nowhere is the level of attention more apparent than in the forest area, where we have cleared trails, placed fiber and rock art along the paths, and arranged natural seating areas among the forest trees.

Forest vitality has been brought about in large part by our long history of cultivating this green space. We have been committed to revitalizing the natural forest area for nearly four years. In that time, we have managed to rebuild the soil, which both saves trees and helps to mitigate flooding problems on the lower side of the park. We have created drainage paths so that rain runoff does not destroy the soil we have spent so many years building up. On a daily basis, we spend hours on vine removal and forest upkeep. We have organized monthly “Work Days” to keep the park clean and complete large park projects. One such project was incorporating trees lost in last year’s winter storms into the beauty of the forest by lining the paths with logs and creating seating areas out of large stumps.

Just last year, we were honored with the Hometown Heroes Award for our work in this section of the Oakhurst Dog Park. We were hailed by the City of Decatur as “watchmen and champions” for our efforts to control invasive plant species and contain the park-wide drainage problems that jeopardize the lower part of the park. This recognition not only speaks to our abiding commitment to the forest, but also to the relationship we have built with the City of Decatur.

On the strength of the city’s relationship with this park community, and the recognition the City of Decatur has so recently shown us, we ask that you support our efforts to preserve this natural environment. Our investment has made this forest area arguably the loveliest green space in the City of Decatur.

The loss of this green space is a quality of life issue affecting the entire community. Green spaces are vital, non-renewable assets to the community. Once lost, we can never get it back. The destruction of the forest area after all our investment and community building, especially a year after the city highlighted our efforts, makes our work feel all for naught.

We invite you to visit our neighborhood park before the meeting on December 15th. Come and see the beauty built by citizens and city. Walk with us through the living organism that is the Oakhurst Dog Park forest. We are happy to meet you there, at any time.

Thank you.


Lee Goldsmith and Richard Backwell

2013 Hometown Heroes




Be There To Be Heard!

Final Commission Meeting Next Week!

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta is again seeking approval from our City Commission to subdivide and sell the wooded area of the land on East Lake Drive currently used as the Dog Park to a developer. The Boys & Girls Clubs must get approval from the Decatur Planning Commission and our City Commissioners in order to subdivide the existing tract.

This is our last chance to influence the City of Decatur Planning Commission!

Planning Commission Meeting:

Tuesday, May 5th at 7:00 pm

City Hall, 509 North McDonough Street

Please attend these important meetings and voice your opinion.

Please email your local government representatives and let them know how you feel about this proposed development.

Peggy Merriss, City Manager


Mayor Jim Baskett


Mr. Fred Boykin, District 1 Commissioner


Ms. Kecia Cunningham, Mayor Pro Tem District 2 Commissioner


Ms. Patti Garrett, District 2 Commissioner


Mr. Scott Drake, District 1 Commissioner


Documents Submitted to the Decatur Planning Commission

Here are the documents and plans submitted by Jay Weaver, of Weaver Capitol Partners, to the Decatur Planning Commission in December as part of the petition to subdivide the Boys and Girls Club property. The plans show two proposed lots that would cover almost the entire forested area.

Channel 2 News Coverage

Watch it! (4:00 pm version)

Watch it! (6:00 pm version)

Feel free to share on your favorite social media sites.


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