Kennedy Park committee hears selectman's proposal for 2-acre dog park

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LENOX — It's every dog's dream — an adventure park for socializing and romping off-leash with canine pals.

Many dog owners in town have favored a safe spot for their four-legged companions, and now after years of informal discussion, a plan is taking shape.

Selectman Kenneth Fowler, a long-time dog park advocate, presented a proposal to the town's Kennedy Park Committee on Thursday for a two-acre, fenced-in plot on a corner of parkland on the south side of West Dugway Road, adjoining Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 and 20). A small, nearby parking area could be expanded.

"I do believe that's going to be the best place in Lenox," he said. "I've looked around at a lot of different places and we've been doing this for a few years. Nothing's come up that's better than this."

"For people nowadays, their dogs have become part of the family, more so than ever," Fowler told the eight committee members. "Particularly, people who have gone beyond the age when you have children in the house — your dogs become pretty important to you."

He emphasized that the park would not only be a boon for a town with 549 licensed dogs but also for visitors seeking potential pet-friendly accommodations and amenities in the area's burgeoning hospitality sector.

Fowler cited the Courtyard by Marriott under construction nearby, as well as plans for the Lenox Manor hotel and events center at the site of the Magnuson Hotel, also on Pittsfield Road.

"We do want people to come here to use the park, that's one of the things that makes it an economic driver," he stressed. "We're going to have people coming because we've become dog-friendly, it becomes an internet phenomenon where people search for places to go where they can bring their dogs."

Creation of the retreat on the heavily wooded land would require the removal of some but not all trees, Fowler said, adding: "I like the idea of a dog park that's a little more wood-like and open, rather than completely like a field."

Liability issues in case of a misadventure involving unleashed, unfriendly dogs also need to be resolved, he acknowledged in response to questions from committee members.

"The fencing will be expensive," said committee member Dr. Andrew Breslin, a prominent veterinarian, who recounted his recent experiences dealing with four-legged patients injured in off-leash dog skirmishes within Kennedy Park, despite regulations requiring owners to keep their dogs leashed.

"The responsibility issue has to be looked at," he urged. "I don't want to be the harbinger of bad things — I only see the bad things, they do happen . I don't mean to be the devil's advocate, I think it's a great idea."

"We have to look into whether we [the town] could be held blameless in a situation like that where each dog owner is responsible," said Fowler. He proposed a consultation with town counsel.

Committee member Ruth Wheeler suggested that dog owners could work out settlements directly or seek recovery of expenses through homeowners' insurance.

"If you've got the land and you're going to build it, you should just do it as big as you can, because the bigger it is, the less chance of altercations," she said. "You should think big, as much as that land will allow. I know it's more expensive to build that fence, initially."

Fowler credited Josh Berg, then an eighth-grade student at Berkshire Country Day School, for outlining the need for a dog park at the previous Kennedy Park Committee meeting in April.

"Josh lit a flame under me," said Fowler, "and rightly so."

Funding sources for the dog park could include economic development revenues from lodging and meals taxes in Lenox as well as potential support from a dog park committee in Lee "who has no land but has money," he said.

The next step is a planning meeting involving Fowler and three interested Kennedy Park Committee members — Breslin, Wheeler and Ray Kirby. A full Kennedy Park Committee session would then be scheduled, said Chairman Robert M. Coakley.

"I'd like to see it happen, possibly by spring we could start," said Fowler. "I think once we kick the bottle, it's going to start rolling."

He conceded that much planning would be necessary, including consultations with Foresight Land Services of Pittsfield.

A dog park opened recently in North Adams, and a long-established pooch playground is at French Park in Egremont. A proposal in Williamstown was withdrawn last January after opposition surfaced.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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