Dogs and natural areas, Wooded Island in Jackson Park

Jackson Park home. JPAC Minutes and Resolutions. Wooded Island Natural Area Maintenance issues. Birds and Birding incl. Jackson Park home.
Dog Parks and resources, responsibilities.

Disagreements continue. In 2016 local blogs have carried widely divergent view regarding dogs and Wooded Island and signage regarding the same. Park District policy remains the same- no dogs in natural areas, and in the case of Wooded Island the whole Island. Lauren Umek, CPD Project Manager for the Ecological and Landscape Restoration under GLIFER ACE project shared the following in December 2016:

Regarding park rules and signage - New park signs were installed prior to re-opening of Wooded Island to the public as the site enters year 3 of the 5 year Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration project. These new signs now include historic and nature-oriented photos of the park, maps, a description of the recent park improvements, and the park rules. These rules include Park District wide rules (ie. permits required for large gatherings and no littering, alcohol, smoking, vehicles, etc.) as well as site specific rules that are determined by park staff. The rules on this sign, while the language has been adjusted, are the same as before with the addition of the new rule “Do not touch or climb on the Sky Landing artwork” that accompanies the installation of Sky Landing and is a standard rule for public art and non-playground structures.
Of the rules that seem to be of conversation within the community – dogs and fishing – these rules are not new. I’ve attached the highlighted relevant section of CPD code regarding animals for reference. Fishing has been and will remain prohibited from Wooded Island (see attached sign for reference). There are currently no fish stocked in the lagoon at the moment (only small fish introduced for migratory birds), so this rule is not really applicable at this time

Applicable language in the Park District Code, Chapter 7: a, 1. .....Animals may not enter or remain in any..... garden.... animal or bird refuge or other areas that may abe designated by a sign as prohibited areas...
(Rules are also set forth regarding dog parks and friendly areas, and beaches.)

New signage installed fall 2016 lists rules including "Dogs disturb wildlife and are not allowed on Wooded Island."

The entire Code Chapter 7 is found in

Opening for a (nonauthorized) dog park in Jackson Park- well away from natural areas. 2011

The identified site that has been visited by JPAC's commiteee, Hyde Park Bark and others is an abandoned handball/tennis court north of the 59th Marina. There has been internal agreement, petitions are being circulated, and money set aside. Many improvements at the site are initiated or promised by the park district. It is in process of setting up accounts and gaining approvals. The site is south of the 59th marina on old courts near the Drive. By car, you have to get off the Drive at Science (5800) and circle leftward and across the Music Court (redstone) bridge and left again (please don't park on the grass). See more information below and at the subpage in the new JPAC site, (if doesn't come up, go to Click Features and Amenities, scroll to Dog Park and click the Jackson Bark Facebook page.)

Note, this dog-friendly area with exercise facilities and classes is not officially sanctioned and may abe temporary.

Louise McCurry (JPAC President and lead of the Jackson Bark) writes May 28, 2011

There is enormous interest in creating a Dog Park in Jackson Park. Of those petitions that have been turned in already, more that 700 people have expressed their enthusiastic support. Many of those who signed the petition and attended the previous meetings, have pledged to join the Dog Park Committee and act as Dog Park Stewards, which are important steps in successfully creating and maintaining a dog park in accordance with the Chicago Park District Dog Friendly Areas Permit Plan ( as required by the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control Ordinance ( Additional Committee members and Stewards are needed.

The Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) is spearheading this effort, but it cannot do this alone. Your efforts and involvement with JPAC are vital to its success. Many dog park enthusiasts in the community have attended the monthly JPAC meeting to express their support, volunteer, offer suggestions and obtain information. JPAC encourages all interested to do so as well.
At the upcoming DOG PARK MEETING, Tuesday, May 31. 2011 from 6:30pm - 7:30pm, (at the proposed dog park site) participants wlll turn in additional petitions, elect the Dog Park Committee Officers, approve the Jackson Park Dog Park Operating Plan and discuss fundraising efforts. Please bring your ideas for planning, funding, designing and operating Jackson Park Dog Park to the meeting.

(Find logo for Jackson Bark (a bmp) in the new jacksonparkadvisorycouncil website).


JPAC thinks parks are for the dogs.

(Note- the following Hyde Park Herald May 3, 2011 gives a wrong date for the Dog Park Committee and community meetings. The most recent meeting was on Monday, May 2, which was major. Come to the regular council meeting May 9 7:30 in the fieldhouse. Next will be announced. The article is therefore adjusted)

The Jackson Park Advisory Council will hold a community meeting to discuss creating an off-leash dog park. "We are exploring the possibility of opening a dog park," said Louise McCurry, president of JPAC. "Dogs need 30 minutes to one hour of exercise each day."

For several years Hyde Park dog owner have advocated for off-leash dog parks. Most recently, the Hyde Park Bark Alliance, a group of about 20 resident dog owners, hosted a "Halloween Paws Parade" in 2009 and again in 2010 to raise awareness for the need for a dog park in the neighborhood. The group, which held a parade at 51st and hyde Park Boulevard in Harold Washington Park, could not get former Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's support in making that area of the park an off-leash area.

[Under discussion at the Jackson Park meetings:] community support of the park, the location of the park and fundraising efforts...


An article in the November 3, 2004, Hyde Park Herald opened the general dog leash law issues, neighborhood-wide but especially as regards parks. This issue is genuine community-divider and probably always will be. Its headline highlighting the Jackson Park Advisory Council distorts in that it spotlights the council, but the issues are dealt with from broad area-wide perspectives. See that article, below. See there what you can be fined if you run afoul an officer over your dog. The Chicago ordinance related to dogs off leash or in natural areas is VII.B10a.

In late 2003, brought before Jackson Park Advisory Council was the issue of whether dogs should continue to be prohibited on Wooded Island or allowed on leash only as in other parts of the park. Park District policy prohibits dogs altogether from some of the "Natural Areas" in the park system. The Island is a natural area (although certainly not primeval) with a long history and historical and ecological significance that a quarter century ago was designated the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary. It forms a small but "destination" part of the park, surrounded by the park's lagoons and accessed from a bridge on either end. Vehicular traffic is restricted to park maintenance and emergency vehicles.

The dog question has been contentious for some time, but was brought to a head in 2003 when a group of dog owners shared a letter to the Park District with the October Jackson Park Advisory Council meeting asking for the right to walk dogs on leash. The JP council declined to endorse the letter, 2-3 of vote-eligible members with several abstentions). The dog owners group subsequently circulated a petition in the park and submitted the petition to the district. Members of the council thought that the council now needed to take a clearer position. After thorough consideration at the November meeting, JPAC resolved that it supports the current park district policy prohibiting dogs on Wooded Island.

Several members of the birding community posted e-mails on their list server calling attention to the issue, which drew considerable response and e-mails to the park district detailing reasons they support the prohibition. A few are presented here, following material from the December 2003 Newsletter.


From the December 2003 JPAC Newsletter, relevant to dogs and Wooded Island

From the November minutes:

Dogs on Wooded Island. [Ross] Petersen moved that the Council resolve that Jackson Park Advisory Council supports the Park District policy that prohibits dogs on Wooded Island, designated the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary. Petersen said too many people let their dogs off leash once they enter the Island and that dogs off leash have been shown to disturb wildlife. Policy stated in signs at the two bridges to the Island, saying “Nature Area, No dogs allowed,” should be enforced, he said. The council’s position needs now to be unambiguous. Doug Anderson observed that a petition was circulated in the park supporting dogs on-leash-only, but this position was probably a mistake. Mike Hyatt, Park District area manager, described rationale for the prohibition policy and noted that this bars dogs from a very small percentage of the park. Upon discussion and call by Tibor Heisler, the resolution was passed by the eligible membership present 10-0.

From page 6:

Dogs and Wooded Island
As reported in the November Minutes, JPAC discussed and passed unanimously a resolution asking the Park District to continue its current policy of prohibiting dogs on Wooded Island. This information was forwarded to then-Park District Superintendent David Doig and to the PD Dept. of Natural Resources.

The resolution was a clarification of JPAC’s rejection the previous month of a petition seeking replacement of the present policy with enforcement on the Island of the dogs-on-leash-only policy enforced in the rest of the park. Wooded Island is a Park District designated natural area, but dogs are prohibited in only some natural areas. JPAC has in the past cited as reasons for special protection for Wooded Island: its special features (including the ancient oaks and rare species), its importance as a resting place on a major migratory bird flyway and for bird-watching and conservation, the Island’s history, and its relatively long existence as a managed wilderness experiencing both natural succession and application of growing experience in productive habitat management. Some of these reasons and others led to the Island’s designation as the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary over a quarter century ago. We believe these reasons, as well as some sad experience, justify park district maintenance of its prohibition of dogs on the Island.

We are pleased that many (although certainly not all) Jackson Park bird lovers have agreed with our position. The editor wishes to especially express appreciation to member Scott Carpenter, who wrote a detailed letter of support for the policy to the Park District.

Section index.Top

A letter to the Park District cc JPAC from Scott Carpenter

Superintendent Doig:

I am writing to you about the presence of dogs in Chicago Park District Nature Areas, particularly Jackson Park. The November Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) newsletter mentions an effort is underway to set aside the dog prohibition on Wooded Island. However well intentioned, I think such an idea is misguided.

I'm an avid birder, as well as a stay-at-home father. I have birded in Jackson Park on at least 479 separate days since May 1997, when I started keeping detailed records. During this period, I have seen 241 species of birds in Jackson Park. Many of these times I was with one or both of my young sons.

Before I address the dog issue, I want to express my appreciation to you and others within the Park District for creating and maintaining Wooded Island and the rest of Jackson Park. This area is truly a wonderful oasis of nature in the midst of our concrete jungle. It is, without a doubt, the reason that I continue to live in Hyde Park. I am aware of no other place in Chicago with such a wonderful natural area that is accessible by foot, and yet so close to all of the other amenities of city life. On behalf of my young sons, my wife, and myself – thank you!

From my perspective, it is nearly impossible to enforce leash laws on Wooded Island and in Bobolink Meadow. Prior to the prohibition of dogs in Jackson Park’s nature areas, I frequently had encounters with unleashed dogs on Wooded Island and in Bobolink Meadow. As a former dog owner, I know that not all dog owners react positively to being asked to leash their dogs, so I would ask the owners diplomatically to leash their dogs. Some owners would politely accommodate my request, but many would not. I have been verbally assaulted (above and beyond rude remarks) by several dog owners, and threatened with physical force, all in front of my children. These encounters continue to happen under the current rules of no dogs in nature areas, but much less frequently.

On the many occasions when I ended up calling the police, the dog owners were usually gone by time the police arrived. Some dog owners would not leave the area, but instead wait until they saw the police car before leashing their dogs. In light of my experiences, I think it is fair to assume that allowing leashed dogs in nature areas will result in many unleashed dogs in these areas.

My experience with unleashed dogs is that they pose at least two threats: they threaten human safety and they endanger wildlife, particularly birds. In addition, they are capable of negatively impacting a birder’s experience simply by being present.

My sons routinely explore the wooded portions of Wooded Island, as well as all of Bobolink Meadow. They look for insects, snails, frogs, leaves, flowers, and anything else that fascinates them. On many occasions, these beautiful moments have been rudely interrupted by unleashed dogs running through the woods. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. Several of these situations have involved dogs aggressively growling and barking at my children. I’ve been told by dog owners that this happens because of the fear present in my children, but I firmly believe that my young children (currently 5 and 2 years old) have more of a right to be in the woods, fearful of dogs or not, than dogs have a right to threaten them.

This is not an issue that affects only children, though. I am hardly fearful of dogs (I owned dogs from 1981 until 1999), but I, too, have encountered dogs that have acted aggressively toward me when I have been alone. I now make a habit of carrying a baseball bat or large stick with me, especially when accompanied by my children. As I discussed with a police officer, I have no intention of using this except as an absolute last resort, and then only to scare the dog, not to hurt it. Sadly, the police officer agreed that I really have no other choice. And this was an officer who was doing his best to enforce the leash law (he had just issued a citation to a dog owner).

As I’m sure you are aware, Jackson Park is extremely popular among Chicago area birders. During spring and fall migration, I routinely encounter dozens of birders from all over Chicago who come to Wooded Island specifically to watch birds. Approximately 300 species of birds have been recorded in Jackson Park, the majority of these on Wooded Island. Birders come for many reasons, including the opportunity to see ground-dwelling birds up close. From thrushes, Connecticut Warblers and other “skulkers”, to herons, egrets and waterfowl, Wooded Island provides habitat to many species of birds that spend the majority of their lives on the ground or close to it.

Without a doubt, dogs pose a threat to these birds. Not only do dogs provide a direct threat of capturing these birds when they chase them, they also provide an indirect threat to these birds by causing the birds to run, fly, or swim into open areas. This is an unnecessary drain on their limited energy. Most birds must eat constantly during migration in order to survive the arduous journey. In addition to burning energy to escape the dogs, these birds are also being forced to take time away from feeding. Escaping from dogs also exposes birds to predators. To humans, this may seem trivial, but to birds, this could be the difference between life and death.

In addition to being a direct and indirect threat to birds, dogs, however unintentionally, are very capable of ruining a birder’s experience. Many times I have been observing birds through my binocular or telescope, only to have the birds suddenly disappear due to the presence of a dog. Although I like dogs, and enjoy seeing the different breeds, I do not travel to Wooded Island to see them. Rather, I travel to Wooded Island to get away from them so that I can observe wildlife in as pristine an environment as possible. If I want to observe dogs, I have many, many more parks from which to choose.

In summary, Wooded Island is second to none when it comes to highly accessible, wild nature areas in Chicago. It is of great educational value to children, it provides sanctuary to those of us who crave peaceful, contemplative nature experiences, and it provides a tiny island of habitat for the millions of migratory birds that pass through our great city. Upholding the prohibition of dogs on Wooded Island will help ensure that this treasure will continue for generations to come.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Scott Carpenter

cc: Jackson Park Advisory Council

Section index. Top

Revisitation by the Hyde Park Herald, "Jackson Park Council re-examines dog leash law"

Note: The Jackson Park Council has visited the issue in 2004 only in conjunction with dog leavings contributing to a raccoon problem, and that without a resolution. Much of the article deals with an ongoing debate over leash-free at Nichols Park. (Nichols Council told a group seeking a sanctioned program of certifying dog owners for leash-free dog walking that it would consider a full proposal. The latter has not yet been furnished. The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference has not taken a position on the merits of the leash law and banning of dogs from certain areas such as playgrounds and natural areas.) Gary Ossewaarde.

November 3, 2004. By Nykeya Woods

Dog owners beware. City officials have reasserted that walking your dog in Hyde Park without a leash is against the law and dog owners can be fined. Jennifer Hoyle of the City Law Department said that there are two different city ordinances that can result in fines. Dog owners can be fined up to $500 on park district property if their dogs are unleashed. Dog owners can also be fined up to $300 if a dog harms another person not resulting in death. If a death occurs as a result of a dog attack, owners can be fined up to $10,000 and serve six months in prison.

Jackson Park has had an ongoing battle with dog owners who allow their pets to run through a section of Jackson Park that is reserved for migrant bird wildlife. The Bird Conservation Network came to the Chicago Park District with the desire to preserve the wooded island, Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary in Jackson Park several years ago, Ross Petersen, vice president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council said.

Park district policy prohibits dogs from the natural areas, less than one percent of park safe havens, where native life like reptiles and birds would live within the park system.

Petersen points out that he council's mission is not to enforce the CPD's laws about dogs and leashes but to advise.

And although the council agrees with the bird enthusiast and the issue of dogs being leashless, it it not the highest priority. "We agree that 99.996 percent of the park is OK to take your dog," Petersen said. But when asked about walking dogs through Paul Douglas Sanctuary, he urged, "Please don't."

According to the Department of Animal Care and Control regarding dogs on leashes, running free is not an option for dog owners living in the city. Regardless of leash laws, several Hyde Park residents let their dogs run in Nichols Park without leashes.

Anne Anderson walks her eight-year-old dog Connor two times a day in Nichols Park because she does not have a yard with a fence. And there are times she lets him "run free" at another park because he gets restless in her apartment and needs a chance to run around. "It's a fenced in area so he can't go anywhere," Anderson said.

Anderson knows the law and she said she has a friend who is scared of dogs. Whenever Connor is running free in the park and someone shows up and wants to use the park, she never hesitates to leash Connor....

Section Index. Top

Dogs on the Trail, Even on a Leash, Give Birds a Fright (see following JPAC letter)

New York Times, September 11, 2007
Research reference: Biology Letters, article by Peter B. Banks and Jessica V. Bryant, University of New South Wales, Australia

Dog walking: good for you, good for your pet.

Not so good for birds, apparently.

Australian researchers have found that walking leashed doges along woodland paths leads to a significant reduction in the number and diversity of birds in the area, at least over the short term.

Peter B. Banks and Jessica V. Bryant of the University of New South Wales surveyed birds along woodland trails near Sydney shortly after dogs were walked on them or after people walked alone. All kinds of dogs were involved, big and small, purebred and mutt. As a control, they also surveyed birds on trails that no one, human or canine, had recently walked on.

Dr. Banks said the study was an outgrowth of his interest in predatory-prey interactions. “Here you have a predator that is being walked through the bush quite regularly,” he said.

The researchers chose trails in places where dogs were banned and in other areas where dog walking was common, expecting different results in each. “We thought that where there was regular dog walking birds would get used to it,” Dr. Banks said. “Well, they didn’t.”*

Regardless of the type of area, dog walking led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of bird species and a 41 percent reduction in overall bird numbers, compared with the control. (People walking alone caused some disturbance, but less than half that caused by people with dogs.)

The study, published in Biology Letters, provides support for park managers and others on the same side of what can be a heated debate over dogs in natural areas.

“The problem is there are other uses for an area” besides dog walking, said Dr. Banks, who described himself as “not a dog hater.” “If dogs walk throughout an area, you’re just not going to get the same bird-watching experience or ecotourism experience."

[*In this editor's (GMO) experience, the same is true of other disruptions such as a train going by--the birds don't seem to learn in this matter-- maybe NOT changing behavior (overriding the flight urge) in such matters is safer and hence more adaptive.]


Letter to the Herald October 4, 2007 by Ross Petersen, Gary Ossewaarde for JPAC on dogs and natural areas not mixing.

To the Editor:

A report appeared in the New York Times Tuesday, September 11, 2007 that shows that dogs and natural areas do not mix.

The article reviews a research study by Dr. Peter B. Banks and Jessica V. Bryant of the University of New South Wales, Australia, published in Biology Letters, publication of the Royal Society, London, September 4, 2007.

Banks and Bryant surveyed bird numbers and species on trails near Sydney before and after dogs of all kinds were walked, comparing the results with trails unfrequented by humans or dogs.

Particularly interesting is the lack of difference between trails where dog walking was frequent or banned. Dr. Banks said, “We thought that where there was regular dog walking birds would get use to it. Well, they didn’t.”

Across the board, dog walking led to a 35 percent reduction in species and 41 percent in numbers. People alone caused less than half as much reduction.

The article quotes Dr. Banks in conclusion, “If dogs walk throughout an area, you’re just not going to get the same bird-watching experience.”

Jackson Park Advisory Council is committed to maintaining a safe and inviting wildlife sanctuary in Wooded Island.


Ross Petersen, Gary M. Ossewaarde, Jackson Park Advisory Council


Letter of Aaron Turkewitz in June 16, 2010 Hyde Park Herald reiterates why dog limits help protect all animals

I would like to respond to the letter from Jules Quinlan in the last issue of the Hyde Park Herald. Mr. Quinlan raises the point that some of the newly restored "natural" areas along the lakefront are being designated as "no dog" zones, and he wonders whether the parks are "for people and their pets? or are they for teh birds?"

I should being by saying that I am devoted to my own dog, and would like her to enjoy as much freedom as possible. Nonetheless, the lakeshore, and the world in general, are richer places because of the animals with which we share it, and not just our pets. Wild animals are increasingly running out of space, due to the proliferation and appetites of human beings. A large number of the bird species that migrate along the shores of Lake Michigan are in decline, as many recent studies have attested. I would argue that our minimal responsibility as stewards is to maintain some habitat where they can rest, and feed and perhaps even breed. Unfortunately, the remaining natural habitats in the Midwest are few and far between. Many of the Herald's readers will know that several spots along the lake, including Jackson Park and Montrose Point, are famous for their concentrations of birds during migration. This concentration is due to the fact that there are so few other places for birds to take refuge.

Protecting those regions, and establishing additional safe havens for birds and other wildlife along the lake when possible, can go hand-in-hand with maintaining the large majority of the lakeshore as a high quality area that is fully accessible to people and dogs.

One last point. Mr. Quinlan specifically asks why at least leashed dogs shouldn't be allowed in such areas, and I definitely sympathize. I would love to go for regular walks on Northerly Island with my dog, but cannot because dogs are not permitted there. But it makes sense, because recent research indicates that even leashed dogs disturb birds more than humans do. A 2007 study (Biol. Lett. 3: 611-13) concluded that "dog walking in woodlands leads to a 35 percent reduction in bird diversity and 41 percent reduction in abundance, both in areas where dog walking is common and where dogs are prohibited. These results argue against access by dog walkers to sensitive conservation areas."