Amherst opens long-awaited dog park to general acclaim


AMHERST — Moments after a red ribbon was cut to officially open the Amherst Dog Park Wednesday morning, Bob Eisenstein of Pelham walked Tammy, his pit bull terrier mix, through her entrance, where she became the first canine to enjoy the large expanse of grass and pea stone in the fenced-in area.

“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” said Eisenstein, who has typically taken Tammy to a more distant dog park in Belchertown, or used the conservation trails in his hometown, where she has to stay on a leash.

“It’s so nice for these dogs to get out for exercise and run around together,” Eisenstein said, as Tammy sprinted alongside other dogs. “They really need the opportunity to run around free.”

On the other side of the site in a more compact area reserved for small dogs, those under 30 pounds, Sydney, a 7-month-old Tibetan terrier, crouched next to rocks, as her owner, Diane McNamara of Amherst, took in the scene.

“This is convenient because it’s so close,” McNamara said. “On a lazy day when I don’t have time to drive, this will be a great place to socialize my dog.”

“It’s healthy for her to be in an environment with other dogs,” McNamara said.

A number of dogs and their owners came out for the opening of the two-acre site on Old Belchertown Road, which will be open daily from dawn to dusk. The dog park, which features benches for humans, watering stations for the dogs and shade structures for all, and has a series of rules and regulations posted on signs at the entrance and a small kiosk, was a concept that began when a petition signed by More than 100 residents were submitted to town officials in 2015. That prompted a community meeting with advocates for the dog park, by the creation of a Dog Park Task Force in 2017.

Jim Pistrang, who chaired the task force, said the group of dog lovers met 30 times to develop and review the plans for the site. He thanked town officials for finding the town-owned land, part of a capped landfill, and carving out space for the dog park and its 18 parking spaces. Pistrang cut the ribbon alongside vice chairman Ted Diamond, before posing for photos with other members of the committee and town officials.

The remaining 45 acres of the capped landfill is to be left in a natural state as its serves as the habitat for the endangered grasshopper sparrow.

The town provided Community Preservation Act money for site and design preparation, and a design grant came from the Stanton Foundation, a private organization dedicated to canine welfare. Berkshire Design Group of Northampton then designed the park, which was built, at a cost of around $300,000, using another grant from Stanton.

District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, who was formerly on the task force, reflected on the success. “This dog park represents years of effort from this community,” Devlin Gauthier said.

She also joked about her advocacy.

“Without this committee, I would not have been able to stand up at the last Town Meeting and answer questions about dog poop,” Devlin Gauthier said.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman credited Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and Town Engineer Jason Skeels for their role in the dog park construction.

Animal Welfare Officer Carol Hepburn was also on the task force. Hepburn said she feels it will be good for the town and should reduce conflicts between hikers and dogs being walked that sometimes arise in conservation areas.

“I hope it’s going to alleviate some of the problems we encounter on the trails,” Hepburn said. The site is also ideal for people with mobility issues.

Costs of maintenance are expected to be minimal, though the Department of Public Works will be taking care of the site.

A Friends of the Amherst Dog Park group is being formed to assist with governance of the park. An inaugural meeting will be held at 10 am Saturday at the Cushman Cafe, 491 Pine St. and people can sign up for the mailing list by contacting bbushouse@gmail.com. Those interested in joining the group can also send an email to friends@amherstdogpark.org

Kaitlyn Hawley of Russell brought Winter, a female corgi. Hawley said she may use the dog park on occasion because her mother works in Amherst. Winter, she notes, loves being off leash, and in the company of other dogs.

“We want to get her more comfortable playing with other dogs,” Hawley said.

Freckles, an Australian shepherd rescue, was brought by Maura Siano of Amherst, who was joined by her children, Helena, a second grader, and Johnny, a fourth grader, though the family left Marble, a collie mix, at home.

Helena was impressed by what she saw Freckles do. “Now he can run 100 mph,” Helena said.

“Dogs get to run around and play with each other now that we have a dog park,” Johnny said.

Siano said the proximity to their home has made her family excited for the dog park’s opening.

“We’ve watched with anticipation the last two years,” Siano said. “We’re so happy to have a place where dogs can run and get quality exercise off leash.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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