Amherst opens long-awaited dog park

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

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

“It’s so nice for these dogs to be out exercising and running together,” Eisenstein said, as Tammy sprinted alongside other dogs. “They really need to be able to run 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 his owner, Diane McNamara of Amherst, collected the scene.

“It’s 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 July 27 opening of the two-acre site on Old Belchertown Road, which will be open daily from dawn to dusk. The dog park, which includes benches for humans, watering stations for dogs and shade structures for all, and has a series of rules and regulations posted on signs at the entrance and a small gazebo , was a concept that began when a petition signed by over 100 residents was submitted to city officials in 2015. This prompted a community meeting with dog park advocates, followed by the creation of a task force on the dog park in 2017.

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

The remaining 45 acres of the covered landfill should be left in its natural state as it serves as habitat for the endangered grasshopper sparrow.

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

District 5 Councilwoman Ana Devlin Gauthier, who previously served on the task force, spoke of the success. “This dog park represents years of effort on the part of this community,” said Devlin Gauthier.

She also joked about her plea.

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

City Manager Paul Bockelman credited Deputy City Manager David Ziomek and City Engineer Jason Skeels for their roles in building the dog park.

Animal Welfare Manager Carol Hepburn was also part of the task force. Hepburn said she thinks it would be good for the city and should reduce conflicts between hikers and walking dogs that sometimes arise in conservation areas.

“Hopefully this will alleviate some of the issues we’re having on the trails,” Hepburn said. The site is also ideal for people with reduced mobility.

Maintenance costs are expected to be minimal and the Department of Public Works will take care of the site.

A Friends of Amherst Dog Park group is being formed to help with the governance of the park, and people can sign up for the mailing list by contacting [email protected]. Those interested in joining the group can also email [email protected].

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

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

Freckles, an Australian Shepherd rescue, was brought in by Maura Siano of Amherst, who was joined by her children Helena, a second year student, and Johnny, a fourth year student, although 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 can run around and play with each other now that we have a dog park,” Johnny said.

Siano said the proximity to their home made his family excited about the opening of the dog park.

“We looked forward to the last two years,” Siano said. “We’re so happy to have a place where dogs can run around and get some quality off-leash exercise.”