Despite widespread support for the idea to put a dog park in the center of town, the proposal has hit a few snags. “The town should pause and consider more carefully where to place a dog park,” said Amey Marrella at the October meeting of CUPOP, the Commission on the Use of Publicly Owned Properties. Marrella, a dog owner and former first selectman, expressed reservations about the proposed location at the Fitzgerald tract. Back in the 1990s the Conservation Commission proposed the creation of a walking trail around what was then a cornfield for residents to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the place, she said. She expressed concerns that converting the fenced-in chestnut orchard into a dog park might encroach on that tranquility.
In addition, she cautioned that the parking area at the Fitzgerald Tract is already tight and may become even more so. Dog owners may decide to drive past the parking area to get closer to the enclosure, just at a time when the town is trying to address the problem of vehicular traffic in what is designed as a walking trail. Marrella said introducing new uses such as a dog park may engender applications for other activities as well. The latest request – which was denied – was by a group for a yoga platform.
Surely the town could find another location with better parking and more compatible adjacent uses, Marrella said.
A group of dog owners, calling themselves the Woodbridge Chestnut Dog Park Cooperative, has been championing the proposal to use the fenced in acreage for a dog park. The town owns the land, but leased 1.5 acres to the Woodbridge Land Trust to facilitate an American chestnut revival experiment. In 2006, the Land Trust, in cooperation with the American Chestnut Foundation, planted approximately 400 young trees with the goal of producing blight-resistant trees. Three years ago, the trees were inoculated with the blight fungus, and, as expected, a large majority of the trees died and were removed. In April, Land Trust member Dr. Phil Arnold approached the Board of Selectmen with the suggestion to use the cleared space for a dog park.
A few other issues have been raised since then. In particular the issue of the chestnut burrs – a spiked membrane that covers the nut and drops with it to the ground in the fall, could harm dog paws. Cynthia Anger, a member of the Land Trust Board of Directors who attended the meeting, said as long as there are chestnut trees in the enclosure, the Land Trust cannot have dogs near them. Dogs digging and urinating against the stems could be a problem for the young trees. “Our concern is indeed the trees,” Anger said. She also clarified that the fence belongs to the Land Trust, not the town.
In a letter to the editor, Land Trust President Bryan Pines wrote that the chestnuts will be harvested for at least another five years. He wrote that the Land Trust contacted the American Chestnut Foundation to hear its take on the proposal. They are the ones who expressed concerns about the dogs as well as the tree’s well-being. In one such orchard in Pennsylvania, dog urine eventually killed the trees.
The majority of speakers at the CUPOP meeting came out in support of the proposal. Ramie Ackley, a retiree living in Woodbridge, said the dog park will not take away from safety and tranquility of the trail. “Most people here are already [walking their dogs] there, she said.
Commission chairman Lor Ferrante said her commission is still studying the issue. “We are trying to do due diligence so it’s done correctly for everybody involved,” she said in a phone conversation. She said the commission may also look at alternatives, such as the abandoned tennis courts at the Country Club of Woodbridge. When the commission comes to a conclusion, which may take several months, it will make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission has reviewed the proposal for the town and approved the chestnut orchard as an appropriate location.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent