No dogs were in sight last night at Amherst Town Hall, but people shared pictures of their four-legged friends on their I-Phones, at a brainstorming session on creating an official dog park.
Plans were outlined for a Dog Park Committee to be formed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman, and is slated to be a pack of nine. Of the dozen people who attended last night, a few nipped at the possibility of serving, and the town plans to have an online Citizen Activity Form ready shortly. “The town is very, very committed to having this happen,” Bockelman said.
The location, size and features of the dog park have yet to be determined, and will be the work of the Dog Park Committee and its puppies, er, subcommittees. The town will explore the availability of grant funds to buy or develop the park, said Director of Conservation and Development David Ziomek. The town could also accept a land donation from a dog lover who wants to make Amherst a happy place for pooches in perpetuity.
Resident Jim Pistrang, who has been championing the effort, said the timeline will be “aggressive.” Although Pistrang said it would “amazing” to have the park open this year, the town is “more likely to open the doors in 2018.”
Veterinarian Ted Diamond said that dog parks elsewhere run the gamut from open fields to fenced and developed places, with play structures for dogs, artificial turf and safety gates. Some even have amenities especially for humans, like picnic tables or benches.
Ziomek said that in talking to dog owners, he “heard loud and clear,” that a fenced dog park is needed. Amherst has many trails that are open to dawn to dusk, and where a dog is welcome if leashed, but the town lacks a place where dogs can socialize safely off-leash. Ziomek said this is something both residents and tourists want. “Many people call us and say, do you have a dog park?” he said.
The park would need a parking area, and might also require lighting and a water source, Ziomek said.
Some in the audience suggested that Groff Park, which is popular among dogs, would be a good place for the dog park. Ziomek said that $500,000 has been allocated to build a spray park for children there, and questions arose about where at Groff the dog park could go, and restrictions on development near riverbanks. There was also discussion of the town-owned Cherry Hill Golf Course( http://www.cherryhillgolf.org/) which is used by “an active contingent of dog walkers,” Ziomek said. Concerns arose in the past off-leash dogs at Cherry Hill, he added, and the liability issues if a dog was hit by a golf ball.
Pistrang, who recently ran unopposed for another term as Town Meeting moderator, said many possibilities will be considered. “There’s a ton of ideas, and we’re going to look at it all,” he said. Pistrang said he became interested in dog parks after visiting two in Maine, and that he takes his dog Buddy to Shutesbury often so Buddy can hike off-leash.
Diamond, who has a dog named Chips, said there are lot of non-socialized dogs in the area – dogs who have never really mixed with other dogs. A dog park could help these loner dogs adjust to one another, besides providing a safe place for them to exercise, he said.
Alan Sprague and others who attended the meeting, said a fenced dog park could be helpful for seniors and those with disabilities who want to exercise their pets but may not be able to walk long distances. “I’m just so thrilled,” Sprague said, adding that he thought the plan first discussed a few years ago had stalled indefinitely.
Sprague said in his experience, dog parks are always clean, and users are good at picking up after their pets.
Ziomek said Amherst’s Little League fields at the Mill River have unfortunately become defacto dog parks because of fencing there, but it is not an ideal mix. Sometimes Little League players “slide when they’re not intending to slide,” he said.
As far as disposing of waste from the planned dog park, Diamond suggested a composting container system might be the best method. Questions arose about how the park would be maintained, and whether a group of private supporters could be assembled.
Bockelman, who lives in Somerville, said there are many benefits to dog parks. “What I like about the dog park, is that it builds community,” he said.