Bushwick’s Maria Hernandez Park Dog Run is getting a long-awaited $6.78 million renovation

The Maria Hernandez Dog Run Pack in 2022. Photo: Amy Willard.
The Maria Hernandez Dog Run Pack in 2022. Photo: Amy Willard.

After several years of advocacy from local dog owners, Bushwick’s Maria Hernandez Park Dog Run will finally get a much-needed renovation.

Paired with another renovation for the park’s playground, also funded by New York City Council, the project is set to cost $6.78 million. The project costs nearly $2 million more than most Brooklyn park renovations, but the likely culprit is a combination of inflation, rising supply chain management costs, and good old-fashioned city bureaucracy. Despite the hefty price tag, locals are in support of the renovation.

“It’s been a dream project of mine for the last seven years,” said Amy Willard, who founded the local community group that takes care of the dog run, Maria Hernandez Dog Run Pack. “I’ve always wanted to get it renovated.”

A Local Community Emerges

The dog run before and after its first cleanup, 2017. Photo: Amy Willard.
The dog run before and after its first cleanup, 2017. Photo: Amy Willard.

Willard first found out that the Parks Department doesn’t handle dog run cleanups in 2017 when she first adopted her dog and began visiting the dog run, she explained. She then began organizing volunteer cleanup days on weekends once a month, but drainage and gravel problems have only gotten worse.

“The dog run’s not in good shape, but the dog run population in Bushwick is growing and it grew exponentially during the pandemic,” Willard said. “And it cannot stay in a state that’s usable for dog owners.” The next dog run cleanup day will take place on May 11 at 10 a.m., she added.

Sweeping up displaced gravel and raising money from locals to buy more has led to significant short-term improvements over the years, but these improvements are not enough, Willard said. “The gravel just cannot essentially drain these heavy downpours anymore,” she added. “And so anytime we have significant rainfall, it just ends up becoming a lake and there’s really nothing we can do.” One of the renovation’s principal goals is to solve the drainage problem, she added.

The dog run in January 2024 after heavy rainfall. Photo: Amy Willard.

In addition to cleaning up the dog run, Willard attended community board meetings within the 34th district, where Maria Hernandez Park is located. Locals wanted funds to go toward other improvements in the park, like the newly renovated athletic field, which reopened in June 2022. That project cost just over $3 million, which came from mayoral funds before the pandemic. The park’s playground, also overdue for a renovation, has been the board’s top priority since, Willard said.

After years of advocacy, Willard’s dream project was approved by the community board and the New York City Parks Department, on the condition that it be combined with the playground renovation.

An Improved Dog Run

The plan for the new Maria Hernandez Dog Run. Image: NYC Parks Department

Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, serving in the 34th district, helped the renovation come to fruition but not until the dog run community advocated for the project, raising $300,000 in the participatory budget campaign. It was the catalyst for the project, Willard said.

Before the money was raised and community board votes were cast, the playground renovation was set to cost the city $5.5 million, a standard figure for Brooklyn parks, according to Gutiérrez’s office. Adding the dog run to the project raised the price, but saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run by combining the efforts of contractors and scoping teams to work on both projects in tandem, they added. Gutiérrez was able to raise nearly $1 million in additional funds through the Parks Department for the larger project, but ultimately the $6.78 million in costs were the result of post-pandemic supply chain issues and inflation made the price of raw materials rise significantly, they explained.

“I think there is a lot of sticker shock when it comes to city-run projects,” Willard said. “Do I personally think the dog run or the playground should cost that much? No, but I also am not the one sourcing materials and contractors.”

The $6.78 million sticker includes several long-term solutions that will hopefully lead to decades of use for dog owners and families alike. For starters, the dog run will take up more space within the park, with 24 feet of added space for the large dog run and 64 feet for the small dog run.

“With a new dog-friendly turf, drinking fountains with dog bowls, improved lighting and fencing for security, shaded seating around the perimeter, and many more improvements, the revamped dog run will be a great enhancement to this beloved park,” NYC Parks Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Martin Maher said in a statement.

Construction is expected to start in late 2025, and the entire project is set to be completed by January 2025. Most recently, the dog run was closed on April 15 and 16 for project testing, according to the Parks Department.

What began with a small group of local dog owners looking to improve their community ended up leading to real change that will last for years to come, despite bureaucratic red tape, a lack of funds, and a pandemic during the years in between.

“I’ve campaigned to get the dog run fixed because I think it’s important to address this problem and have a dog run that’s built correctly and will be built to handle significant rainfalls so that it won’t flood, and so that people can use a nicer dog run that’s clean and safe and usable in all sorts of weather,” Willard said.

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