Best Dog Park 2009 | Barkham at Markham Dog Park | Sports & Recreation | South Florida

Dogs are an ease to please. A couple of acres of rolling green space on which to gambol. Freedom to relieve one's self on one's own schedule. That, and the chance to practice the species' appallingly crude greeting ritual: bum sniffing. The Barkham at Markham Dog Park sports more room and better-kept grounds than the area's other dog parks, where an hour of fun usually requires a bath at home. For when us bipeds need a trot, there's a fitness track in both the park's big dog and little dog sections. A pavilion makes this one of the few parks where you can have a picnic and unleash your dog. Plus, with the Everglades bordering the park to the west, this is real country air. It's a glorious way to spend a spring Sunday afternoon, and the exertion is liable to make that mutt a little less obnoxiously peppy through the evening.

Here is a football star for the YouTube Generation — and not just because Joey Porter's 17.5 sacks made for a slick highlight reel. The Dolphins linebacker, who answers to "Peezy," gives football's most colorful interview. After Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in a nightclub, Porter went on ESPN not only to defend Burress but to defend guns. After he made the Pro Bowl, Porter appeared on Fox Sports to say he couldn't wait to get in the face of a teammate, Denver's Brandon Marshall, who had called Porter "soft." When Porter was in town to play the Dolphins, he stopped by his alma mater, Colorado State, and couldn't resist running into the end zone to give a player a leaping chest bump, even though it would cost his old team a 15-yard penalty. If you're a Fins fan, you live with those antics because Porter's aggressive style electrified the Dolphins defense. Besides, no matter how seriously some of us take football, it is entertainment. And even Porter's fiercest critics must admit: The guy's fun to watch.

It was two minutes and twenty-four seconds that changed MMA fighter Mike Brown's career forever. That was the amount of time it took Brown, an undecorated high school wrestler from Maine who had been fighting only since 2001, to dismantle Featherweight Champion Urijah "California Kid" Faber. Going into that fight last November, Brown was a huge underdog to Faber, who is the face of World Extreme Cagefighting and was on a 13-win streak. No one in the fighting world knew much about Brown, who relocated to Coconut Creek to train with world-class fighting group American Top Team. Yet somewhere around the two-minute mark in round one, people realized just who Mike Brown was. The New England native launched Faber into the air and brought him slamming back down to the mat. Then, in one quick, cat-like maneuver, Faber jumped up to his feet just in time for Brown's powerful right hand to collide with his chin. And the rest is history. Since then, Brown has defended his position as the number-one featherweight in the world against top contender Leonard Garcia, who met an end similar to Faber's. Just ten seconds into that bout, Garcia got brutalized by Brown's deceptively fast right hook. There's sure to be a Brown versus Faber rematch in the works, but you can bet this time, people will know just who our SoFla homeboy is.

Is this even a question? Seriously.

Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you're a long-distance runner, an amateur jogger, or a power walker who's sick of doing laps around Aventura Mall, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is the best place to get your groove on. This two-mile path is loaded with things to keep your mind off the fact that, for some reason, you're running without being chased. Located on Sunrise Boulevard at A1A, the heavily shaded path at Birch State Park runs along the Intracoastal Waterway and is always populated with runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and couples just looking for some fresh air. The paths are wide enough that it never gets too crowded, the ocean breeze keeps the temperature down, and the beach is only a few hundred feet away when you want to give up the exercising ghost or continue for a long run down Fort Lauderdale Beach.

If gondolas are the way to experience Venice, Italy, then the kayak is the way to experience "the American Venice." Evening is the time to launch. Glide soundlessly over water made silver by the moonlight. On those nights when the moon is absent, the lights of Las Olas mark the shore. And even in this economy, when the entertainment district is a shadow of its former self, the revelry still looks Gatsby-an from the water. And considering all the huge homes lining the Intracoastal, the kayak is the best means for getting a peek at how the top 1 percent lives. The Atlantic Coast Kayak Co.'s Isles of Venice trip usually takes place once a month and begins around sunset. Guides will make sure you don't get in the way of a cruise ship or caught in a current and swept out to sea, which would be a drag.

Have you ever seen a stressed-out monk? They simply don't exist. To be practiced in the art of meditation is to be able to banish — for as long as you like — the multitasking, short-attention-span culture that has only grown more demanding since the economic downturn. A daylong course at the Drolma Kadampa Buddhist Center teaches first-timers the art of meditation of Mahamudra Tantra — defined in Buddha's teachings as having a single mind of both bliss and wisdom. It costs $35 — a small price to pay for learning the ability to unclutter your mental hard drive and find a lasting tranquility. The center also offers chanted meditations, or "pujas," at no charge for those who find that group settings are better for getting close to nirvana.

No, Cantu isn't the most talented player, and he's not going to put up the best numbers. He's not showy, and he's damned sure not pretty. Cantu's just clutch. And guts. Last season, Cantu rapped so many big hits in late innings that a lot of Marlins fans started calling him "Can-do." Most of them probably didn't know he'd already earned that nickname in Class A ball. You want that guy in your lineup. He's championship-caliber. But the 27-year-old Cantu, conceived in Mexico and born in Texas, has had an up-and-down career. It went up in his 117-RBI breakout season in 2005 at Tampa Bay when he was voted MVP of the then-Devil Rays. The next year was dismal, though, and the guy was drummed all the way back to the minors. That's where the Marlins — always so brilliant at picking up great players on the cheap — found him. He's in his prime now, hardened by the game, humbled by it, and very well may be ready to help lead a team to the promised land.

Fern Forest is a natural oasis in the middle of Broward County sprawl. It's a preserved cypress swamp, a 243-acre piece of ancient Florida. The swamp was once part of a cypress strand that stretched all the way to Lake Okeechobee. Now it's just a peaceful and beautiful reminder of what we've destroyed. Fern Forest has four trails that run a total of about two miles and range from the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk (the half-mile Cypress Creek Trail) to the rugged and oft-muddy Maple Trail, which winds over roots and rocks right through the swamp. The place is full of all kinds of Florida fauna and flora, and the name isn't false advertising: It has an abundance of ferns that come in about 30 varieties, with names like resurrection, leather, polypody, and shoestring. One of the trails leads to a 20-foot-high platform overlooking an old cow pasture that is now occupied by gopher tortoises. Give yourself a few hours to experience the park. It can take a while to go that far back in time.

David Booth doesn't have a C or an A on his sweater, so technically he's not a team leader. But ask any player in the locker room and you'll get a different opinion. At 24 years old, Booth is having the best year of his career. He's among the leaders in goals, assists, shots, plus-minus, and power-play points. But it's the things that don't show up on a score sheet that make him the best player on the Panthers. Booth scraps for every loose puck, he's not afraid to crush the opponent into the boards or in the open ice, he pesters goalies by buzzing around the net, he plays solid defense, and he draws extra defensive attention whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone. Booth makes every player around him better and plays with an edge that's spreading through the organization like wildfire. David Booth is what hockey is all about.

Booth hat trick:

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