Dog-loving Volunteers Make Off-leash Canine Park a Great Place for Pups and People

Wilson and his owner, Tom Richter, find plenty of things to do at the dog park.

Hot diggity-dog, it’s the dog days of summer. It’s time to grab your pup and head to the Otter Lake off-leash dog park, where your canine companions can chase, run, jump and fetch on 10 acres of grass and trails. Many local dog owners, like White Bear Lake resident Tom Richter and his Lab/Basset mix, Wilson, are part of a loyal group who make the park a regular part of their summer routine. But it’s not just about the quality time spent with their four-legged friends.

“It’s more about people than dogs,” says Richter. “Dogs are an excuse to get out and to be active and social. I grab the dog and go up there and meet up with friends.” As for Wilson, Richter says, “his favorite thing to do at the park is hang around the people.”

The park is regularly mowed and maintained thanks to Richter and other park regulars who volunteer their time. Eight years ago, Richter helped form the Otter Lake Off-Leash Liaison and Advisory Committee to meet a need for improved park upkeep. Richter leads the group as an official guardian of the park.

“Our guardian program makes opportunities possible for the county to sustain daily upkeep, and they are great ambassadors for the park system,” says Jennifer Fink, recreation services manager with Ramsey County parks and recreation department. “They are our eyes and ears inside the park.”

It took a lot of work and an army of volunteers to get the park to the condition it is in now. “Everything was wild and overgrown, so we started a mowing strategy to mow open areas of grass, leaving other areas unmowed to help prevent erosion, and we shift areas to even out the wear from all the people and dogs running around,” says Richter, who is a mechanic by trade. “We have a core group of 20 volunteers who are regularly looking after the park, and we can pull together 50 to 100 people for big project days like Earth Day cleanup and wood chipping,” he says.

Armed with pooper-scoopers, pitchforks, wheelbarrows and shovels, the committee volunteers its time to clean up, lay wood chips along the trails, trim trees and even snowplow the parking lot, ensuring a great experience for dogs and owners. A local tree service donates wood chips for the trails, and the committee also built bridges with reclaimed wood over drainage areas to help avoid problems with dogs in stagnant water and mud.

The committee has a Facebook page, which is their primary mode of communication; they also post signs and make phone calls to coordinate efforts.

“There are a lot of people with a vested interest,” says Richter. “This is their activity, exercise and family time. This group takes pride and ownership in that.”

Otter Lake Off-Leash Dog Park

Size: 10 fenced acres
Access: Parking lot at 5750 Otter Lake Road, White Bear Township Amenities: Wooded terrain, footpaths, community gathering area and water access at boat launch.
Regular hours: Daily, open 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
Designated small-dog hours: Tuesday 6–7 p.m. and Saturday 10–11 a.m. Service dogs, regardless of size, are allowed in the dog park at all times, including during designated small-dog hours.
For more information: See the page here for a list of rules. For more information from the Otter Lake Off-Leash Liaison and Advisory Committee, visit their facebook page or send an email to [email protected].