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Too Much Dog Poop Cancels 'Movies in the Park'

 A surplus of poop at a public park is threatening its most popular summer event.
Dog Poop in Fulton River Park
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FULTON RIVER DISTRICT — The Movies in the Park series at Fulton River Park on Kinzie and Desplaines streets is such a landmark yearly event that the Chicago Park District recently moved trees at residents' request so they wouldn't obstruct the screen.

But Larry Gage, president of the Fulton River District Association, said dog waste is becoming such a problem that one yearly movie sponsor, Blommer Chocolate Co., pulled its support this year, and the number of summer flicks was reduced from five to three for the 2013 season.

"Because of some of the dog issues and the shape of the park, Blommer Chocolate Co. did decide not to sponsor a movie this year," Gage said. "Their representative said they were a little uncomfortable with the park, that their employees do not use the park nearly as much as they used to because of the amount of use that it gets from the dogs and everything."

The remaining screenings are scheduled for Aug. 13, featuring the James Bond movie "Skyfall," and "The Hunger Games" on Aug. 27, both at dusk.

Officials at Blommer, which is across the street from the park at 600 W. Kinzie St., did not respond to requests for comment.

Fulton River Park and others in the area are feeling the squeeze as new residential towers bring more dog owners to the neighborhood quickly, according to Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy.

"Balancing park space is becoming an issue in the high-density neighborhoods around Downtown, with dogs off leashes illegally, killing all kinds of trees, bushes and grass to the point where other people can't use the parks anymore," O'Neill said.

Celina Cubero is in Fulton River Park daily with dozens of pooches as a dog walker for Walks with Lenny, which serves the River North and River West neighborhoods.

"It's literally like a landmine field out here," she said of the dog waste that litters the grass outside the designated dog-friendly area that is in a fenced-in section at the park's southeast corner. "There's signs over there saying, you know, clean up after your dog, keep them on the leashes, which people don't always do."

Jim Burchill, 30, another dog walker with Chicago Pet Sitters, said he regularly sees "repeat offenders" unleash their dogs in the park and fail to clean up after them.

"I see at least once or twice a week people letting their dogs out to play fetch and whatnot," he said. "I don't take the dogs off just because I know I can't afford to pay the $300 fine if a cop were to ticket me. But I guess they figure that as long as nobody's around and no one's looking, they can get away with it."

Burchill said he's never seen a dog owner get ticketed for breaking the rules. Gage said he thinks more enforcement of leash laws could help cut back on waste, but that community organizers aren't too optimistic the dog waste problem will improve that much.

Gage said the Fulton River District Association didn't push to keep the number of summer movies at five this year because they want to survey community interest in using the park at all.

"This is the most use [the park] has ever gotten, so we weren't even sure if people would come out this year," he said. "We do know that people will comment after the movies, so we're gonna wait and see what happens, and what the feedback is like.

"When we can somehow enforce the leash laws, which means you won't have dog crap out there because they won't be running free, then we can see about maybe going back to five movies next year," he said.

O'Neill said that's a shame, since Fulton River Park is "ideal" for movie screenings. "It's almost designed for it, because you have the hill going all the way up to Desplaines along Kinzie, providing a perfect view of the screen."

But if dog waste keeps appearing at the current rate, Cubero said movies will be the least of the neighborhood's concerns, because people won't want to use the park at all.

"I see people sit in the park on their lunch breaks, and I'm like, 'I would not do that if I were you. I really wouldn't,'" Cubero said. "People come out to sunbathe, and I'm like, 'Don't, don't! You don't know what's out here.'"