By Hyacinth Fiorenzo
Henry County is now home to a unique dog park that is quite literally a labor of love.
The Paw Park at Smith River Sports Complex, at 1000 Irisburg Road in Axton, is officially open following a July 23 ribbon cutting.
Situated just off the banks of the Smith River at the back of the 90+ acre sports and family recreational facility, lies a 2.5 acre fully enclosed, naturally wooded slice of doggy paradise.
“Most dogs have access to trails and fenced yards but it’s not very often that they get to run free in a forested area,” said Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA). “This is, as far as we know, the only wild and natural dog park in the entire commonwealth. We’re pretty proud of that.”
The Paw Park has been a work in progress between the association and the Ed and Jewel Marvin Family since 2019.
Ed Marvin, who lost his wife, Henry County Native, Jewel, in 2017, has been searching for meaningful ways to honor her legacy. Marvin, with his daughters Lynn Leader and Ellen Parent, as well as Jewel’s niece, Karen Owen Jones, worked closely with DRBA to carry out his idea of an area that would benefit the community his wife called home. In addition to an interactive walking trail at the Spencer Penn Center, the dog park was yet another piece of Marvin’s loving tribute to his wife.
His daughter said that the couple’s love of dogs brought them much joy, adding that Marvin always carried dog treats in his pockets.
“Dad loved dogs,” said Leader. “He would be just delighted to have this park open in his name. I think Jewel liked dogs, but I think she loved watching Dad love dogs probably even more.”
Dogs of varying sizes traipsed along the forest path with tails wagging.
“This is just incredible,” said Patty Williams of Martinsville as her dog Charlie, a 5-year-old Schnauzer mix, ran freely. “Look at how happy he is!”
“There are a lot of dog trails in our area,” said Haworth. “The beauty of this park is that these dogs can run freely, without a leash, and fully enjoy the space. We designed this to be as natural as possible.”
The trail, which meanders through a canopied forest, features five separate areas with benches and picnic areas for humans as well as tunnels, beams and elevated platforms for the dogs.
“We want families to be able to come here and enjoy time with their pets,” said Haworth.
The Paw Park is free to use, but visitors must complete a registration form (available on the DRBA website) with the Martinsville Henry County SPCA to provide proof of current county tags as well as rabies vaccination. Once the dogs have been verified and registered, a private key code will be provided, and owners may utilize the park at their leisure. Pet registration is limited to two dogs per handler.
The project was made possible with the combined efforts of the Marvin Family, DRBA, Martinsville Henry County SPCA, Henry County Parks and Recreation, and the Smith River Sports Complex.