Townsend wants in on dog park craze

Townsend's new feasibility committee could lead to another canine hangout

Groton resident Shannon Belanger with her German Shepard, Roxy, at the Ayer Dog Park.

TOWNSEND – Every dog has its day, and every dog in Townsend could soon have its own park.

The town’s newly-formed Dog Park Feasibility Committee hosted its first meeting on Tuesday, July 31. According to Sara Grant, the committee chair, the group consists of five members and two alternates who first met each other two years ago on Earth Day at the Townsend Common.

With about 1,000 registered dog owners in town, the committee is looking to compose a report allowing the Board of Selectmen to, in Grant’s words, “make an informed decision about the feasibility of a dog park in Townsend.”

Town Administrator James Kreidler said that the committee members had actually been meeting with each other for a year prior, though they had no affiliation with the town at the time. It was only until members approached the Board of Selectmen in July asking for insight when the board determined it was best to establish an official town committee.

“Municipal dog parks are all the rage now,” Kreidler said last week.

The administrator said that the committee will work closely with multiple town departments in its process to find an appropriate spot for the park to go, specifically the Properties Committee in an effort to determine if a town property can be reused for the park.

In the Nashoba Valley area, only one other town has an official dog park. Ayer’s town-sanctioned dog park is located at 101 Snake Hill Road.

According to its Facebook page, the one-acre park is owned and operated by the town but the care of the park is left up to its users and the Friends of Ayer Dog Park. The park’s design and construction was paid for through a combination of a $191,000 grant from The Stanton Foundation and a 10 percent matching figure from Ayer of $20,000. The park also features water fountains to fill the dogs’ water bowls installed by the Ayer Department of Public Works, with other contributions from Crabtree Development, RAE Construction and A Pyburn & Sons.

Mark Wetzel, Ayer’s Department of Public Works superintendent, said that the park opened about a year ago from a total price tag of approximately $308,250. The whole process of the town getting the dog park came about from The Stanton Foundation sending a letter to Ayer in May 2013 saying it had grants available for communities looking to start dog parks.

“It was a long process because at the time, we didn’t own the land,” Wetzel said. “We had a number of meetings and looked at four possible sites. We even closed a part of Pirone Park for people to bring their dogs for a Dog Park Day.”

Wetzel even noted how he talked to local dog owners about whether or not they thought a park was needed. It turns out the park was much needed, given how the park has welcomed dog owners from Groton, Littleton and Shirley. Though Wetzel understood the need from his own personal experience.

“The situations reminds me of my mom,” he said. “For her, her life revolves around her dog. But it can’t get exercise lying around with an 80-year-old woman, so they go to the dog park so it can run around and she can talk to people.”

That description certainly fit the environment of the Ayer Dog Park on Tuesday, as a group of dogs ran around the gravel-laden lot nipping at each other and sharing multiple water bowls. Meanwhile their owners sit on benches and chat about their trusted companions. One of them is Shannon Belanger, a Groton resident letting her German Shepard, Roxy, frolic around. She agreed that Groton could use its own dog park considering many residents walk their pets near the Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary on Cardinal Lane.

“I come here because it’s fenced-in and better for the dogs, especially with the spots for waste disposal,” Belanger said.

Fitchburg also opened its own town-sanctioned dog park at 198 Townsend Street on August 26 last year. Construction of the park on the one-acre parcel started in June 2018 after fundraising started three years earlier. Said park includes watering areas, an area of shade with benches and a handicap-accessible entrance.

Nathan LaRose, Fitchburg’s recreation director, said on Tuesday that development of the park started after a resident talked to a City Councilor about establishing the park. The Board of Park Commissioners then commissioned a group of residents to determine where and how a dog park could be made, eventually finding funding through grant money from the Stanton Foundation.

“It’s frequently used, especially on weekends and hot days,” LaRose said.

The town of Billerica recently opened a dog park. Chelmsford and Lowell have, parks also.