The Woodbridge Dog Park, a private endeavor brought to life through the enthusiasm and persistence of a group of dog lovers, is now open to be used as a safe enclosure to let dogs run off-leash and enjoy each other’s company. It is located on the Fitzgerald Tract at the corner of Center and Beecher roads.
When Orange Fence put the finishing touches on the enclosure in mid-December, many dog owners and their four-legged friends were chomping at their bits to pass the gate and try out the park, said Bonnie Blake, president of the Dog Park Cooperative (WDPC). But the locks did not come off until the rules were up and clearly posted, she said. Judging from Facebook entries, the park has been warmly received, not only from dog owners, but also others using the walking trails.
Blake, who has been out there as often as possible, said one young couple told her they had recently adopted a dog, which they would not have done if they didn’t know the dog park was erected. She was happy to hear that in some ways the cooperative had had an impact on a dog finding its forever family.
She also said how her own dog’s behavior started to improve noticeably once she started taking her to dog parks. It is important to always keep an eye on your dog while it is interacting with other dogs in the park, she said.
The WDPC still has ways to go in terms of finishing the project. The second phase of the fundraising effort has begun, funds that will be used to finish seeding grass, and to install benches and trees. The cooperative plans to install a “Founders Wall” of plaques with the names of those who donated $500 and more. The Founders Wall will be up for a grand opening celebration, which is planned to take place in early June. After that date, donations toward the upkeep and landscaping will be acknowledged on the Woodbridge Dog Park Cooperative website. Those who donated a bench or tree will get a plaque on that.
The dog park is located on about 1.5 acres on the upper field of the Fitzgerald Tract, next to the chestnut tree enclosure. It consists of a smaller area for smaller and older dogs, and another area for larger dogs. The entrance is about 80 feet or so from the parking lot, although a foot path has not been installed yet. Dogs should be kept on a leash until they enter the “foyer,” where dogs should be unleashed before they get released into either the big dog area or the small/older dog area.
At this point the small dog area is not quite finished yet, as the area where the old asphalted skating rink was located has not been seeded yet. That is on the to-do list for the time when the ground thaws.
The effort to establish a dog park in town was started some 17 years ago with Deena Myers and her father Len, who approached the town with plans for several possible locations. But at the time the efforts did not come to fruition.
Even so, Myers was part of the The “Fitzgerald Four,” namely Deena Myers, Ramie Ackley, Michelle Ditzian and Bonnie Blake, who picked up the idea and brought it to the attention of First Selectman Beth Heller right after she was sworn in. She supported the idea, but made it quite clear that even if the group could find a suitable location, no town money would be spent to bring it about.
Just about a year after getting the go-ahead from the town’s Board of Selectmen the Dog Park Cooperative had reached its fundraising goal of $60,000 to set up the fence. That’s when another obstacle presented itself, with the former asphalt skating rink, which had not been used in years, but also had not been removed. After several weeks of investigating, Blake and her group of volunteers found Garrity Asphalt, who donated its time and trucks to reclaim the asphalt skating rink for them and clear the way to install the fence, which was done by Orange Fencing.
Blake said she relied on the help and advice of their construction supervisor, Brenden Fimian, who also serves on the WDPC board. Blake also is grateful for the help of Snyder Civil Engineering, a firm that provided professional drawings submitted to the Town Wetlands Agency. Snyder not only donated its time and expertise, but made an additional donation.
Maintenance of the park will fall to the WDPC. It will be hiring someone to mow the inside as well as an 8-foot strip around the perimeter of the fence and to spray against ticks. There will be cleanup days at certain intervals. Membership in the cooperative is not a prerequisite for using the park, which is open from sunrise to sunset.
The WDPC has provided four poop bag dispensers for the convenience of the pet owners. However, the trash can to dispose of the used bags is located closer to the parking lot, to make it accessible to the trash haulers. One suggestion is to leave the used bag near the leash, so owners will not forget to take it with them.
Years of planning and organizing will culminate in a grand opening celebration, which at this point is planned for the first weekend in June. “We will again hold the Mutt Strutt and other events inside the dog park and honor all those who made the dog park possible,” said Bonnie Blake. Those include the entire WDPC Board of Directors, First Selectman Beth Heller and town hall staff, also the Board of Selectmen and the Building Department and Public Works Department.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent