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Pooch park stalls: Little progress on creation of dog park in Amherst

  • Addie, center, a yellow Labrador, shakes off after a dip in the Fort River during a trip to Amherst’s Wentworth Farm Conservation Area with dog walker Katherine Welch of Amherst earlier this year. Also enjoying the watering hole are, from left, golden doodle Matilda, Mazie, a miniature schnauzer, Harriet, a cockapoo, and Welch's own puggle, Tiger, digging deep into the cool mud. KEVIN GUTTING/file photo

  • A sign reading "All dogs must be leashed after 10 a.m. Amherst Conservation" hangs on a tree at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Paxton Krusinski watches his dog Sequoia cool off in the water while walking at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in Amhest. —Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Paxton Krusinski, left, talks with Saima Dizdarevic at the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area in Amherst. Dizdarevic was there with her dog Bo and Krusinski came with Sequoia, far right. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Sequoia walks along a trail with owner Paxton Krusinski (not pictured) at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area last week in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Sequoia swims at the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area. “They are confined in your home and confined on the streets — they need a place to explore,” owner Paxton Krusinski said. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Saima Dizdarevic walks her dog, Bo, at the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area, Wednesday, in Amherst. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Paxton Krusinski looks at his dog Sequoia as they sit in the grass after taking a walk at Amethyst Brook Conservation Area Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in Amhest. —Andrew J. Whitaker



Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2016

AMHERST — Bringing her rottweiler-shepherd mix into the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area one day lsat week, Irene Eigner made sure she arrived well before 10 a.m. so Belle could have more freedom during the walk.

“It’s so good for them to be off leash. They can walk much faster and it gives them better exercise,” Eigner said.

But with limited opportunities for off-leash walking, Eigner, of Sheerman Lane, said she would support building a dedicated dog park in Amherst where dogs could roam free throughout the day — so long as no additional restrictions are placed on the current trails used by dog walkers.

“I’d love a dog park,” said Eigner, adding that she recently brought Belle to one in New York City. “It’s so much fun for dogs to meet each other.”

A year after considerable interest was expressed in the community for creating a formal dog park where owners could bring their pets and let them run free in a controlled environment, there’s been no movement and no timeline for having Amherst’s first dog park become reality.

“There’s still a great deal of interest,” said Alton Sprague, of Echo Hill Road, who circulated a petition titled “We Need a Dog Park in the Amherst Area” that was signed by more than 100 residents last summer.

Speaking while walking his dog on a trail near the Mill River in North Amherst, Sprague said people want a place where their pets can run off leash, and where they can socialize with other dog owners.

“The zeal is still there. We’d love to pursue it,” Sprague said.

Amherst would be following the lead of other cities and towns, including Agawam and Holyoke, where dog parks have been built.

The demand for a dog park comes, in part, from restrictions on popular places to walk dogs. Amherst’s rules for conservation land require dogs to be leashed at all times except between the hours of dawn and 10 a.m. at the Mill River and Amethyst Brook conservation areas. In addition, dogs must be leashed on all conservation areas from April 1 through June 30 to protect ground-nesting bird species.

But Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, who spearheaded the preliminary meeting last July, said in an email that there are no updates on the project at this time. Peter Hechenbleikner, interim town manager, said he is deferring to Ziomek on the topic.

Sprague said he understands that a dog park is not a vital project and that in the intervening time Ziomek added responsibilities following last September’s death of Town Manager John Musante, and had to redirect energy to other priorities.

Another attendee of last year’s meeting, Ilene Lacey, of Hartman Road, said she remains interested in the dog park, but understands that the transitions at Town Hall have caused the delay. Lacey said it might be possible to get back to normal, with Paul Bockelman set to become the permanent town manager next month.

“Perhaps now that we hired a town manager, the assistant town manager can bring the dog park idea back to the front burner,” Lacey said.

In Northampton, city officials in May announced that the Parks and Recreation Department is considering creation of a new off-leash dog park, which would come after Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School trustees adopted a new policy requiring dogs to remain on leashes at the Smith Farm Fields. But no location has been determined.

In Amherst, Sprague said he has identified a few places appropriate for a dog park, including at Groff Park in South Amherst, a portion of which will be remodeled next spring as the aging wading pool, built in the 1950s, is removed and replaced with a spray park. A dog park could be built on shaded land near the Fort River, he said.

At Mill River Recreation Area, a site for the dog park could be near the tennis courts, an underutilized area that has shade and is also proximate to water, Sprague said.

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