Adam Jason Cohen grew up in New Jersey building DIY skate parks with his friends on unused land. The reward was not just a place to skate, but also a chance to watch how new communities developed in those formerly abandoned spaces. When the Chicago-based photographer learned that a group of south-siders had done the equivalent for dogs on tennis courts in Jackson Park, except with handmade agility equipment instead of half-pipes—naturally they called it Jackson Bark—he took his own dog, Molly, a seven-year-old pit bull, to check it out.
Molly, it turns out, isn’t really a canine skate punk. She doesn’t want to show off by scaling the steep ramps or jumping through hoops or balancing on a seesaw. Her pleasures are much simpler: chasing after tennis balls and hanging out with other dogs. But there’s plenty of space for that at Jackson Bark too. Spending time there makes her happy. Cohen tries to take her there once a week. Over the past few months, while Molly played, he used his camera to capture this vibrant community of dogs and dog people.
Although Jackson Bark is not officially recognized by the Chicago Park District, it’s the only dog-friendly area south of the South Loop and one of the only places in the entire city where dogs can play after dark. (The Park District has given preliminary approval to dog parks in Calumet Park and McKinley Park, but those are still only in the planning stages.) Woodlawn resident Todd Agosto began building the park in 2014 with pieces he salvaged from construction sites. Gradually other neighbors began to help with the project. Now Jackson Bark is the third-largest dog park in the city, with two separate play areas and 100 pieces of equipment, all maintained by Agosto and a collective of volunteers.
Earlier this summer, the city announced plans to build a new public golf course in Jackson Park, designed by Tiger Woods. As the plan now stands, the 7,354-yard course would take over almost the entire northern half of the park, including what is now Jackson Bark. The dog-park community has begun a campaign to ask the city to find a new location for the golf course that will have sufficient room for both dogs and golfers.
Meanwhile, Jackson Bark celebrates its third anniversary on Saturday, August 26, which also happens to be International Dog Day. There will be a barbecue at the park. And lots and lots of dogs. —Aimee Levitt
Photographer Adam Jason Cohen’s pit bull, Molly. “She’s not the most agile,” he admits.
Jackson Bark’s handmade agility equipment includes recycled tires built into steps that dogs can climb.
“There is an extremely strong sense of community within the fences of the park,” Cohen says. “Sharing made this place happen, and the tradition continues with something as small as sharing dog treats.”
Jackson Bark at dusk. After running through the agility course, dogs can cool off in the kiddie pools.
Because it’s equipped with lights, Jackson Bark is one of the only places in Chicago where dogs are welcome after dark.
Leland Woods with dog Buddy
Johnathan, his son, and dog Blue
The “VIPups” wall honors the community members who helped build the park.
A “Jackson Paw-lock” painting
Damien Lee with dog Valentino