Dogs get their day at Harrison Hills Park; off-leash area planned by Allegheny County

Dogs will soon have a space to run leash free at Harrison Hills Park, and some local pet owners found the announcement by Allegheny County worthy of a tail-wag.

“I’m thrilled,” said Bev Bogan of Harrison. “We have been wanting this for 10 years.”

Bogan and others won’t have to wait much longer. Construction of an off-leash dog area is expected to begin this spring with an opening date set for summer.

Harrison Hills is a county-owned park comprising 500 acres off Freeport Road, just past the Walmart shopping plaza. It is brimming with trails, play areas, streams and scenic vistas of the Allegheny River.

Open daily from 8 am to sunset, the park is flush with programs for humans. There are guided nature walks, soccer clubs, painting classes, bike-riding lessons and junior ranger initiatives.

Until now, however, dogs have been required to be restrained while on the property.

“Even if our dogs were well-behaved, and they’re not because they’re beagles, we would have had to keep them on a leash at Harrison Hills because you can’t let them run around,” Bogan said.

She joked that she might be first in line with her two small dogs — Dwa and Liska — to patronize the parklet, which will be situated along Woodchuck Drive.

Joel Perkovich, county landscape architect, said the off-leash area will be housed in an open grove, centrally located near a large playground and picnic shelters.

The 1.3-acre site will be split for use by large and small dogs. One acre will be dedicated for larger animals, such as golden retrievers and huskies, and the balance will be for those the size of Bogan’s pet beagles.

“This is such a wanted amenity,” Bogan said, adding that the nearest off-leash space to Harrison is another county-owned park, Hartwood Acres, in Indiana and Hampton townships.

“We’ve taken the dogs there,” she said, “but you have to walk about a mile from the parking lot to the designated area.”

A long time coming

Bogan long has felt that “our end of the county” was deprived of special park amenities.

Perkovich said plans for the dog space are being designed in-house and are about 90% complete.

The remaining steps are to finalize details related to wheelchair access, he said. Crews will be on-site in coming weeks to gather the remaining information necessary to move forward.

The space will have pet-friendly amenities, such as running water, a small shelter, benches and picnic tables, as well as ample parking.

Harrison resident Cindy Fantuzzo was instrumental in lobbying for implementation of a local off-leash space.

The self-described dog enthusiast spearheaded a petition, gathered dozens of names and sent it to the Allegheny County Parks Department.

“I posted it on Facebook and requested that people email them, too,” she said. “It’s very exciting, and I know it will get a lot of use. It was a group effort by everyone that sent emails.”

Fantuzzo is the owner of a 9-year-old Labrador and a goldendoodle puppy.

“My ‘doodle loves to run and play, and I don’t have a fenced-in yard,” she said.

Like Bogan, Fantuzzo envied other county parks with dog spaces and believed Harrison Hills had been neglected.

The inside scoop

One of nine Allegheny County parks, Harrison Hills sits at the northeastern tip of the county and overlooks the Allegheny River.

Marking its 50th year in 2021, the park is enjoyed year-round by recreation seekers who bird-watch, ride horses, jog, bike and catch salamanders in the creek.

The expansive property is maintained through the combined efforts of the county’s public works and parks departments.

Clarence Hopson, deputy director of the Allegheny County Parks Department, said the property demands a staff of three laborers and a seasonal employee in the summer to keep the park properly pruned.

Work includes typical upkeep, such as mowing grass, weeding, cleaning restrooms and picking up litter. The crew also is responsible for inspecting the play equipment, planting flowers and keeping the trails free of fallen branches or other hazards.

“We have a great relationship with the Highlands Area Soccer Club and assist them in maintaining the soccer fields and surrounding area,” Hopson said.

His staff also prepares the park for the annual Rachel Carson Trail Challenge each June and assists Scouts who may be using the park for a related project.

“Harrison Hills is known for having many species of birds in the park, and we maintain a path to all the bluebird houses and mow around the purple martin houses,” he said. “We also keep clear the benches around the park for all the bird-watchers.”

A volunteer group, Friends of Harrison Hills, has worked to improve the integrity of the walking trails, developing 14 miles of blazed paths with trailheads and maps.

There is also a paved loop at the foot of the park accessible for wheelchairs.

The fundraising group created an outdoor classroom; an Environmental Learning Center; and the Watts Memorial Overlook, a deck suspended 400 feet above panoramic views of the river.

For Bogan, a space where dogs can run free will make the park complete.

“My dogs aren’t ones that you can train to stay by your side,” she said. “They want to go after every rabbit and every blade of grass. Here, they will be able to stretch their legs and enjoy the park right along with us.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, or via Twitter .

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