Airport Forces Dog Park to Close

A Photo Story By: Faith Graceffa

Oak Creek’s Runway Dog Park was operated by Milwaukee County Parks, the government department that operates over 150 parks. After being open to the public since 2005, Runway is now being taken back into the hands of Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. Dog owners who have been able to walk there freely for seventeen years must now find a new place to walk their pets.

On April 25, 2005, Mitchell International Airport and Milwaukee County Parks signed an agreement that allowed the dog park to be on airport property given that it would be maintained by the county department. In the April of 2022, the airport sent an official letter to Peter Bratt, the County Parks’ Director of Operations & Trades, informing him that the park must close. 

The letter said that the Mitchell International Airport was receiving “various federal grants” that were funded through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and were conditional. One of the conditions for those grants was that the airport’s property be used for “airport operations,” and so a having a dog park on that land went against the agreement the airport had with the FAA.

On the last open day of the park, there was not only crowds of people and dogs, but also CBS 58 reporters.

They interviewed a few people and featured the story on television, along with publishing two articles on their online website.

Leading up to its closing, there had been rumors among dog owners who have been regulars for a while. Some thought that it was only temporarily closing, while others thought it was closing to expand the airport. Up until November, most park members weren’t able to get any information on why it was closing or how long it would be closed for.

Many have expressed sadness and even anger at the closing of the park. Gail Milbrath, who had been going to the park regularly for years, created a Facebook group for former park members. It is called the Former Runway Dog Exercise Area Park Alumni and has 500 followers.

“First pic vs. last pics at our favorite place. Going to miss it here!” Zoe Winnowski posted on the Facebook group, alongside photos of her dog when it was puppy in the snow and full grown this fall.

“I have tried two parks already and it is just not the same. What made Runway a better park than others?” Luis Alberto Lopez posted.

“Last night at Runway. Leo saying goodbye.” Kenneth Robertson captioned a video of a his little dog seemingly barking at the park while wagging its tail.

“This was, sadly, our last night at Runway Dog Park. It is closed. We’ve had a wonderful two years – some people have had seventeen years there. Duke and I will miss this beautiful park.” Catherine Doll Myers posted.

Mitchell International Airport hopes to make it up to these dog owners and said in their letter, “Airport staff desires to continue collaborating with [the Milwaukee County] Parks staff to establish a transition plan that will relocate to another non‐airport site to minimize the impact on the end users.”

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