Amherst eyes capped landfill for dog park

  • Sequoia the dog walks along a trail with Paxton Krusinski (not pictured) at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in Amhest.

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 01, 2018

AMHERST — A small section of the capped landfill on the south side of Belchertown Road could be set aside for the town’s first dog park.

“It looks very hopeful and viable,” Jim Pistrang, chairman of the Dog Park Task Force, said Tuesday.

Members of the task force and town officials visited the location last week, and optimism is growing that a municipal dog park could be built on 1 to to 1½ acres of the publicly owned land.

“We will focus on this site in the coming months,” Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said. “We intend to look hard at the feasibility of putting a dog park there.”

The possibility comes as the town pursues development of a solar project on the second capped landfill, on the north side of Belchertown Road, where the transfer station is situated. Amherst officials are working with LEE Energy Group of Agawam toward getting a 3½-to-4-megawatt project built on that site.

Because the south landfill is also capped and is considered part of the solar project, Amherst intends to reserve as much as 85 percent of the 53-acre site as a permanent habitat for the endangered grasshopper sparrow, Ziomek said.

“Adding an amenity like a small dog park to the landfill solar project makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Ziomek said the site has nice topography for a dog park, is away from the primary nesting area for the bird and distant from residences, has road frontage on Old Belchertown Road, where a small crushed stone parking lot could be built, and has access to water.

Even with restrictions, a sledding hill used by neighborhood children would remain, and the current path of the Robert Frost Trail would not change.

The town is already consulting with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to assess whether a dog park is possible.

While Pistrang said there are issues in terms of putting anything on a capped landfill out of concern that it might compromise the integrity of the cap, they can be resolved. For instance, he said, a ballasted fence wouldn’t require poles to be dug, and an inexpensive shelter could go on top of the cap.

Ziomek noted that a dog park was successfully built on top of a capped landfill in Kingston, where it is known as the Boneyard Dog Park.

The task force is requesting $90,000 from the Community Preservation Act to make it happen, reduced from $200,000 when it was still considering using the money to buy private land.

This money will be used for three purposes, Ziomek said: a mandated reuse study in which an engineering company would be hired to evaluate the location; survey work and other due diligence related to permitting; and a match for a potential grant from the Stanton Foundation, which supports the development of enclosed dog parks in Massachusetts, including those built in Agawam, Greenfield and Ludlow.

Ziomek said the Stanton Foundation would first provide money for a design study, then for the money to build it. Up to $250,000 is available to Amherst.

The precise timing of building and opening a dog park remains uncertain, though a reuse study could commence sometime after July 1, Ziomek said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.