Dogs banned at popular Great Barrington swimming hole

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GREAT BARRINGTON — New "no pets allowed" signs greet dog owners on the most popular dog walk and swimming hole in Great Barrington.

But the dogs didn't seem to notice.

"Just ran smack into it yesterday and my dogs ran right around it and into the river," wrote Jessie Cooney, in response to a Facebook post asking about the new development near the bank of the Green River in the McAllister Wildlife Refuge.

Dog owners are in a furor over a new gate and signs at what they say is a slice of dog and human heaven.

Conservation Commission Chairman Shepley Evans said the gate was installed last week to keep people from driving on the dirt road that meanders through fields and woods down to the river and the town water department's pumping station. He said only water department trucks are allowed on the road.

But the department is behind the "no pets" signs, said Cynthia Ullrich, its district clerk. The riverbank area, a popular sunning, swimming, and dog-romping zone, is owned by the water department.

It may take time for dogs — and their owners — to catch on to the rule.

"It's especially difficult for us, as my dog cannot yet read," posted Joey Chernilla, who lives at the edge of the refuge.

So it may be that the posted leash law signs - frequently sidestepped by dog owners in collusion with, well, other dog owners - may have to finally be observed.

"We don't have an issue with dogs going down there, but we have an issue with the dogs messing down there," Ullrich said. "It was getting very tiresome."

Ullrich said some dog owners would pick up after their pets using plastic bags, but then leave them on the side of the road or near the river.

Department Superintendent Peter Marks said the same. "There's nothing worse than stepping into or running the mower into the dog mess," he said.

While the aquifer in the area is the source of the town's drinking water, Marks said he is not concerned about contamination from dog feces because the popular spot is below the water resource.

This is strictly about cleanup, he said.

On Monday, Sophie Shrum was walking on the road, her dog off-leash. When told about the gate and the new rule, she said this was the only place in town to take an overheating dog to swim. But she said something similar happened at a popular Williams River spot in town.

"A woman opened the private access to public, but then people started to leave litter, have parties and make noise," Shrum said. "Now it's private again."

Beyond the new gate and signs Kathleen Larkin sat on a rock in the water. She'd come to watch the solar eclipse, holding her miniature poodle.

Larkin, who lives nearby, said she had never seen bags of dog waste left behind. She wondered where else to go on a hot day.

On Jon Rosen's Facebook page, one comment after another lamented the new restriction.

"It's a total bummer," wrote Rosen, who walks his dog here twice a day.

A few dog fights over the years haven't diminished the charm, it appears. But the increase in dogs and people was one reason why the leash law covers the park as well as the rest of town, Evans said.

Gerard McAllister deeded the land — which was already a wildlife sanctuary — to the town in 1974 "at the urging of George Wislocki of Berkshire Natural Resources Council," wrote local historian Bernard Drew in The Eagle.

McAllister, who purchased it in 1971, came from a New York family that owned a fleet of towboats and barges. Drew wrote that McAllister made the gift to the town as a tax write-off, since the family had just sold the boat business for a healthy profit.

The town is charged with maintaining the refuge "in a natural condition now and for future generations," Evans noted.

Evans said rules had to be set down in recent years to keep things under control. The site cannot be used after sundown or for camping. Smoking, drinking and drugs are banned. Riding a horse requires written permission.

Even so, Marks said the place has become "everybody's dog park," and things have gotten a bit wild.

"Clearly they're supposed to be on leashes, and they never are," he said.

Marks said the water department is holding firm on the policy.

"It's too far gone," he said of the mess left by dogs. "I don't think you're gonna change people. It's been a long time coming."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871


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