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Dog Park – Yes, But Where?

Dog Park – Yes, But Where?

Selectmen Weighing the Options

The question where to establish a dog park — an enclosed area where the dogs can move around off-leash — is still being weighed, even as selectmen this spring voted in favor of establishing such a dedicated area.

The problem is that the park many dog walkers already frequent, namely the walking trails at the Fitzgerald Tract, bordered by Center and Beecher roads, is also frequented by birders, gardeners and walkers who seek the peaceful tranquility of the place.  Their fear is that this tranquility is not compatible with the dog park.

A persistent – yet civil – round of petitioning of the selectmen has ensued, with the Woodbridge Dog Park Cooperative, a grass-roots group of dog owners, looking to re-purpose the chestnut orchard at the Fitzgerald tract.  They have not only kept pressing the issue with local officials in recent months, but also collected signatures from people supporting this location.  As of last week, they had collected 628 verified petition signatures for a park at Fitzgerald, said Michelle Ditzian.

“We must take the proper time to make the best decision on behalf of all citizens,” said First Selectman Beth Heller at the board’s May meeting.  She said town hall staff had looked at the different possible parcels in town, including a smaller parcel behind the Center Road tennis courts, referred to as the Town Campus, and potentially a parcel on the Aleghi property off Pease Road.

“Board members agreed that the sites with the most potential are Fitzgerald Field and Aleghi,” Heller said.  “It was also the consensus that the board was not ready to vote.”  The selectmen were scheduled to walk the Aleghi property on Monday, May 23.

Dog park cooperative leaders say a potential property needs to offer a minimum of 1.5 acres, in order to accommodate a separate space for smaller/older dogs; it should be in a well-frequented part of town to accommodate older dog owners; it should not be wet or muddy; it has to be fenced in, with a double gate.

In a survey of its membership, the dog park cooperative found that most people voted for the already fenced-in chestnut area at the Fitzgerald Tract.  The parking lot is not too far, the agrarian fence can be re-enforced or replaced.  However, the property had been leased by the town to the Woodbridge Land Trust to house a chestnut tree experiment run by the American Chestnut Foundation.  The vast majority of the trees have been diseased and removed as the experiment is winding down, but some 14 or so trees remain.

Since the dog park became an issue, some have expressed concern about the burrs hurting dogs paws or the trees damaged by dog urine.  The cooperative leadership, consisting of Bonnie Blake, Michelle Ditzian, Ramie Ackley and Deena Meyers, have assured selectmen that they were willing to pick up the burrs.  They found a protective skirt that could be installed to keep dogs at a distance from the tree trunks.  In locations where dogs urinating has created problems for trees, they were young trees, they say, not grown trees.  Even so, they said they were willing to move the confines of their enclosure to keep the trees out of the dog park.

But some of those who walk the Fitzgerald property for its tranquility were not convinced.  Luiza Cunningham was one who spoke during public comment.  The tranquility is the attraction of that location, she said, and a dog park would diminish that tranquility. “Some are uncomfortable with dogs,” she added.

Former First Selectman Amey Marrella also has been arguing for leaving the trails unchanged.  “It’s a gem and unique asset,” she said.  Her concern also was to attract more cars and insufficient parking to the entrance, especially handicap parking.

Bonnie Blake, one of the founding members of the cooperative, said that allowing the dogs to run free in an enclosed area may actually result in fewer and better behaved dogs on the trails and an easier time for joggers.

Ramie Ackley, also a member of the cooperative, questioned how quiet the Fitzgerald tract really is.  Many people walk their dogs there, there are cross-country meets, joggers, “it’s a public space,” she said.  Gardeners are only a small number of those who enjoy the location.

Michael Broderick, a local veterinarian, said a dog park is a place of socialization, not just for dogs but also for people, and both are already there, he said.  He encouraged people to visit the Hamden dog park in Spring Glen, as they will find that it does not create a lot of noise.  “Woodbridge has good canine citizens and smart owners,” he assured the selectmen.  “It will not change the flavor or atmosphere of the tract.”

Pictured: Bob Breitenstein

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

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