Social Distancing With Your Dog

Life is topsy-turvy with coronavirus-related restrictions, even for dogs. My mom and I are missing our old life together: road trips, farmers’ markets, activities with friends. But our slow, scent-filled strolls in local parks have become a welcome stand-in.

This month, I sniffed out six area parks appropriate for social distancing. During my weekday visits, these dog-friendly paths and trails were mostly empty, making it a safe way to enjoy the great outdoors while staying six feet apart.

Walter Jones Historical Park: 11964 Mandarin Road Jacksonville FL 32223
A visit to Walter Jones Historical Park is like a trip back in time to old Florida. Along the walking trail, you can explore historical treasures including a farmhouse, barn and sawmill. In addition to its rich history, Walter Jones Park also offers a variety of visual treats, from its grand old oak trees to its tail wagging river views. Walter Jones Historical Park is located in Mandarin, near the intersection of Mandarin Road and San Jose Boulevard. The park is currently open for walking from sunrise to sunset.

Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park: 7000 Roosevelt Blvd Jacksonville FL 32244
On a hike of nearly 2 miles, the main trail shows off upland and floodplain forest habitats along the Ortega River. The trail itself is shaded by tall trees which makes the hike a little more tolerable on a hot summer day. You will cross paved paths, unpaved trails, and boardwalks while exploring the sights (and smells) of the marshy land. Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park is located right along US 17, across from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The park is free, dog-friendly, and open from dawn till dusk.

Ringhaver Park: 5198 118th Street Jacksonville FL 32244
This park offers a two-mile paved path with wooden bridges that lead to the Ortega River Nature Preserve. Along the path, you’ll encounter beautiful oaks, towering pines, and lots of squirrels! Benches located along the trail provide a convenient resting place for those who prefer a slow-paced stroll. Ringhaver Park is located in southwest Jacksonville, extending south along the western border of the Ortega River.

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens: 1445 Milcoe Road Jacksonville FL 32225
The Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is a 120-acre urban woodland full of gardens and trails for you and your dog to explore and hunt for lizards – or find peace and connect with nature. I should note, there are actually over three miles of rustic hiking trails that offer challenging woodland hikes or easy walks through landscaped garden spaces. If you need to pause for a moment, benches are placed along the trails so you can stop and enjoy the view or stretch your paws.

Ed Austin Regional Park: 11751 McCormick Road Jacksonville FL 32225
A favorite spot for dogs, the old golf cart trail offers 1.75 miles of sniffing opportunities. You and your pup can walk the paved path (mostly shaded) or visit the wooded dog park on the north side of the park which has separate areas for small and big dogs to run on the acres of land.

Castaway Island Preserve: 2921 San Pablo Road South Jacksonville FL 32224

Castaway Island Preserve is a breezy spot to get away from the neighborhood and enjoy a breath of fresh air outdoors. The easy one-mile trail allows dogs and their humans to follow animal prints in the path, giving visitors a chance to learn something new – and dogs a chance to roll in the grass (or in something stinky). An elevated boardwalk leads into the salt marsh and includes two observation overlooks. The preserve is located on San Pablo Road about a half-mile north of Beach Boulevard.

On paths and trails, stay at least six feet from other people and dogs. When walkers or joggers approach, step off the path and allow them to pass. If a stranger asks about saying hello to your dog, this is an easy time to practice saying, “Not right now, thanks for asking,” without the stigma of being unfriendly. Not all dogs love other people or other dogs. Even after we go back to not social distancing, we should be in the mind-set of giving dogs space if they want it.