LENOX -- A proposed, fenced-in dog park has moved one step closer to reality at Kennedy Park.
The Kennedy Park Committee, which advises the Select Board on issues relating to the town-owned property, unanimously voted yes on the plan.
At the committee’s recent meeting, Selectman Kenneth Fowler proposed consideration of a one-acre, currently unused, 23-acre wooded portion of the 180-acre Kennedy Park along West Dugway Road, just off Routes 7 and 20.
If the project, still in its preliminary stage, is approved by the full Select Board, funding would be raised privately, according to Fowler.
"If we offer a place to bring your dog where it’s legal for them to be off the leash, I think it’s a great thing to do," he said.
Although the dog park proposal has been in development for at least a year, it gained more attention after two horseback riders were severely injured when their steeds were spooked by an off-leash dog on April 19.
During an animated 45-minute discussion, Kennedy Park Committee member Ruth Wheeler stated that "people are worried that if we put a dog park there, that dogs aren’t going to be allowed in Kennedy Park. We have to be clear that these are two separate issues."
Wheeler emphasized that there has been no committee discussion of any alteration of the current park policy, which allows dogs as long as owners keep them under their control at all times, as required by a town bylaw. She also said documented cases involving problems with unrestrained dogs have been rare, since many minor incidents such as "nips" are not reported to police or the animal control officer.
"My intention is not to get dogs out of Kennedy Park," Fowler said. "My intention is to have a legal area for the dogs to be unleashed."
Wheeler responded that town bylaws do not state that dogs must be on leashes, despite some signs in the park to the contrary.
"This is a Lenox issue," said Selectman David Roche, "and while I’m not necessarily against limited outside use, I’m not sure that we want to build a dog park for the county."
According to resident Steve Pavlovsky, some dog owners in town want canines to run free, while others favor a dog park. "But the bulk of the people who use the park today would not use a dog park," he contended
Pavlovsky also stated that "everybody should be encouraged to control their dogs" and train them thoroughly before they’re unleashed. He opposed consideration of a specific leash law because, he said, it would discourage many regulars from using the park.
"Kennedy Park is for everybody, it’s a public park," he added. "I would encourage people not to get emotionally involved on an incident or two, certainly dog owners ought to be cautioned and warned by the fact that there is some liability issue if you’re not in control."
In response, Caroline Roche of Berkshire Horseback Adventures, whose clients were injured in the April 19 incident, stressed that "we were never going to ask you guys to limit dogs being in the park. In 13 years of business, this was our third accident, unfortunately a horrible one, but we’ve never had issues with dogs."
Echoing a point made earlier by Fowler, resident Patty Spector depicted a dog park as helping to encourage more tourism since Lenox could be promoted as "dog-friendly. Economically, it’s very important, and I believes the cost of it and the maintaining of it can be worked out."
Another resident and park regular, Shawn Leary Considine, urged the committee to "respect the long-established uses of Kennedy Park. One of those issues is the ability to bring unrestrained dogs who are under their owners’ control. The other long-established use is horses, those are also unrestrained animals."
"Maybe you should post some guidelines, like certain hours for horses and unrestrained dogs to not be in the park," Leary Considine said. "Any rules you impose, you have to understand, are going to be hard to enforce. People are not going to pay any attention unless it’s a rule that’s simple to follow."
She also suggested "use at your own risk" signs. "If you want to have rules, you have to have rules that everybody’s going to respect," Leary Considine said.
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