Easthampton dog park advocates renew call for city to establish an area for pets

  • Joan Kurtz, president of Facebrook group Friends of the Easthampton Dog Park, with her dog, Ziba, at her home in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joan Kurtz, president of Facebrook group Friends of the Easthampton Dog Park, with her dog, Ziba, at her home in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2022 4:16:12 PM
Modified: 4/1/2022 4:15:18 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Advocates of a future dog park in the city are speaking up, again.

Efforts to bring an off-leash dog park to Easthampton were discussed heavily in 2019 and 2020, but were tabled after options for location sites had been exhausted. In recent weeks, however, discussions surrounding the need for a dog park have been reinvigorated thanks to the Facebook group Friends of the Easthampton Dog Park, whose members have brought the issue up at recent City Council meetings.

“We’re looking for a viable location in the city and need your support to help us secure it for development,” Joan Kurtz, president of the Facebook group, told the council on March 16. “Monies are available for this project at no cost to the city. Recreation reduces troublesome behaviors for the dogs. ….Without physical and mental stimulation, dogs can develop nuisance behavior like constant barking, rough play, restlessness and anxiety.”

Kurtz envisions the future park as one where dogs and their owners and friends can have a safe, well-maintained area for recreation and socialization.

Several times a week, she takes Ziba, her 4-year-old Czechoslovakian shepherd, to the South Hadley Dog Park. The South Hadley park, located at 14 Mulligan Drive, is completely fenced in and has separate areas for dogs of different sizes.

Though there is an unofficial dog park in Northampton at the Smith Farm Fields, it is not fenced in. It’s not clear whether the dog park allows dogs to be off-leash, though the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School trustees, which oversees the 282-acre state-owned property decided in 2016 to no longer permit dogs to run off-leash.

“I’m tired of driving to South Hadley for socialization. I think we need one here,” Kurtz said. “Ziba is a good girl, but she will run after critters like chipmunks and squirrels, so a space that is fenced in would make life so much easier for us.”

Kurtz and others from the Friends of the Easthampton Dog Park are rallying for support from the business community as well as local government.

The city provided $9,000 of Community Preservation Act funding in February 2019 to identify possible sites for a dog park on city-owned land. Berkshire Design was hired with the money and assessed nine different locations, ultimately developing a site plan and cost estimates for a site off Oliver Street. Those plans were rejected by opposition on the City Council.

The goal of identifying a site has been to apply for a grant from the Stanton Foundation, whose grants pay up to 100% of the cost of the design of a dog park up to $25,000, and 90% of the “hard” construction costs of a park, which include labor and materials, capped at a limit of $225,000.

In December 2020, a site near Brookside Cemetery was nixed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, following the objections of numerous neighbors. At the time, residents raised several concerns about the site, including tree cutting, having dogs near the cemetery and disturbing a peaceful area.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the creation of a dog park presents very unique circumstances, such as divots, picking up and emptying containers filled with dog waste and the increase to costs to settle disputes involving dogs. On a personal note, she said she has repeatedly experienced dog owners who feel their dog is well-behaved and bites another animal or person. The occurrence can be traumatizing unsuspecting dogs and owners.

“It’s all addressable, but it needs to be done,” said LaChapelle, who described herself as a longtime rescuer of big dog breeds and pit bulls. “As mayor, I do not oppose a dog park in the city. I encourage them (advocates of a dog park) to explore options of location and operation and funding.”

City Councilor At-Large Owen Zaret, who has been a strong advocate for a dog park on city-owned land, said several residents have taken the initiative to go on site visits and come to feel that there’s a parcel off of Button Road behind the Treehouse housing community. The group is also working on fundraising and establishing a donation account with the city, he said.

He noted that other municipalities like Agawam and Westfield have constructed dog parks with the assistance of Stanton Foundation grants.

In addition to finding a city-owned site and applying for a Stanton grant, Zaret said there also needs to be more support from residents and city government.

“To see it three years later ... and have so little process, it’s a head-scratcher for me,” said Zaret. “It almost seems silly that we’re still debating this.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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