A group of volunteers has formed to bring a dog park to the fenced-in area that once housed an experimental chestnut tree nursery at the Fitzgerald Tract. “I heard from a lot of people that something needs to be done,” said Bonnie Blake, who spearheads the effort, along with others. Especially since the town enacted a general leash law this summer there is no area where dogs can run freely, she said in a phone conversation.
In addition, to keep a dog on the leash at all times can mean a hardship for many elderly, she said. “It seems that easily more than half those walking their dogs at the fields is over 50,” Blake wrote in an email to First Selectman Beth Heller. “Several have a leash in one hand and a cane in the other.”
Blake said she and another volunteer, Michelle Ditzian, met with Assistant Administrative Officer Sheila McCreven at the Town Hall to present their proposal, and found an open ear at the first selectman’s office. Blake felt encouraged to bring the issue to different municipal commissions to drum up support. She talked to CUPOP (Commission on Publicly Owned Properties) and attended the Board of Selectmen, which referred the issue to Town Plan and Zoning. The next milestone, Blake hopes, is a public hearing, possibly by CUPOP at its October 16 meeting.
Blake also visited numerous area dog parks and talked to the people who frequented them as well as organizers and volunteers. She learned about the usefulness of a separate area for smaller or older dogs; and about dog park etiquette, and how to encourage and enforce it. One idea was to bring a dog trainer in to talk about how to behave, not only for the dogs, but their owners as well.
She said a member of CUPOP had gone to visit some area dog parks, Blake said. “She came away with a really positive attitude,” she said. “She was very impressed with the community spirit at those parks.”
The idea to use the fenced-in chestnut orchard at the Fitzgerald trails for a dog park gains momentum
The Chestnut Orchard: In 2006, the Woodbridge Land Trust, in cooperation with the American Chestnut Foundation, planted approximately 400 young trees on a parcel on the Fitzgerald Tract, with the goal of producing blight-resistant chestnuts. Three years ago, the trees were inoculated with the blight fungus, and, as expected, a large majority of the trees died and were removed. Last April, Land Trust member Dr. Phil Arnold approached the Board of Selectmen with the suggestion to use the cleared space for a dog park.
The 1.5 acre, fenced-in enclosure seems a perfect spot, Blake said. She said the fence will need to be replaced or reinforced, as it was not designed for dogs. They may need to install a second gate in order to create an area where people can put the leash on and take it off, without another pup making a beeline for the exit. She said she does not expect the town to foot the bill for that; it would have to be done by fundraising. She hopes the town will help mow the area and provide a trash barrel and maybe a poop bag dispenser – one of which is already available at the parking lot to the walking trails. The town would have to make sure that the property insurance covers that parcel. However, the town would not be required to carry any liability insurance for a dog park, said Town Attorney Gerald Weiner at the Selectmen’s meeting. The liability rests with the dog owner.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent