Editorial: Dog park regains momentum in Amherst

  • From left: Sadie and Ollie play together at the Northampton Dog Park. 04/06/2017

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

We’re glad that a proposed dog park in Amherst has regained momentum, and we’re impressed with the process the town is using to involve residents in finding a site and determining the design.

A dog park was enthusiastically received when it was first discussed publicly at a community meeting in July 2015 when Alton Sprague of Echo Hill Road submitted a petition signed by more than 100 people who supported the idea. At the time, Sprague said he appreciated being able to use dog parks in cities along the route he took on a trip down the Eastern seaboard.

Residents said they want a park where their dogs could run loose and socialize with each other, supplementing trails in conservation areas with more limited hours. Ted Diamond, of Amherst, who owns Valley Veterinary Hospital in Hadley, pointed out that because leash laws and other regulations have changed during the past three decades, owners have fewer opportunities now to take their dogs out in public. “Things are much more confined for dogs now,” he said.

The Mill River and Amethyst Brook conservation areas continue to be among the most popular spots in Amherst for walking dogs, but the animals are permitted to be off leashes there only between the hours of dawn and 10 a.m. Leashes also must be used on conservation land between April 1 and June 30 to protect ground-nesting bird species.

The dog park project stalled after then-town manager John Musante died in September 2015 and he was not replaced permanently for nearly a year by Paul Bockelman. The effort was renewed last spring when Moderator James Pistrang volunteered to lead a committee to determine the size and design for a dog park, review possible sites and identify grants and other potential fundraising opportunities. The 11-member Dog Park Task Force began meeting in June.

Although a site has not been determined, the task force will ask the town for Community Preservation Act money in case it is needed to buy private land. Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and his staff in the conservation and development departments are compiling a list of public sites that might be suitable for a dog park, but it is uncertain if any will be selected.

The task force aims to avoid taking town land away from other recreational uses, particularly sports. “We don’t want to take existing playing fields since those are already at a premium,” Pistrang said.

Officials also want to avoid building a dog park in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where noise might be a problem, and they want it on a bus route to increase its accessibility.

And there’s still a chance, Pistrang said, that “an amazing benefactor” will step up to donate land. About 1½ acres are needed.

The task force is using the Agawam dog park as a model. It includes water to keep dogs hydrated, a shelter from the weather and benches for people.

After a site is secured, the town will seek bids for designing the park. Pistrang said he estimates the cost of construction at anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000. “Our hope is that the Stanton Foundation would pay for a good portion of that,” he said. The foundation, which has an office in Cambridge, supports the development of dog parks in Massachusetts, but the grant cannot be used to buy land.

If a site is identified by the end of the year, Pistrang hopes the dog park would be built and ready to use by next fall. When it opens, it will be free and open to anyone, including visitors to town, so long as their dogs are licensed and up to date on rabies shots.

The task force also wants to establish a permanent organization, such as a friends group, to oversee maintenance of the park.

Although the process will take more than three years before the dog park opens, we believe Amherst has done the right things to ensure that it will be used well by canines and humans for many years.

“It’s seen as a very positive thing for the town having a dog park,” Pistrang said. We agree.