7 Reasons The Springside Dog Park Plan Is A Terrible Idea

springside pretty
1) Incompatible with original vision & master planning for Springside Park
 
In 1910, Kelton B. Miller donated the original acres of Springside Park to the city with an agreement that the city shall “forever maintain the granted tract” along with promised land to be added later “for the use and enjoyment of the public as is usual with lands of this character.”  The Miller family, who continued to obtain and donate many more acres of land to the park over subsequent years, were major proponents of preserving natural land, and were instrumental in preserving many other large tracts of lands for public appreciation of nature, including many of the state forests in the county. Over the years, the Miller family has repeatedly objected to the occasional taking of this land by the city for other uses, and clarified the intent that Springside Park was meant to be preserved in a mostly natural state that would accommodate multiple uses, but no single-use that would adversely impact the others.  In 2007, Kelton’s grandson Mark Miller condemned the proposal for a dog park at the proposed site as a violation of the spirit of the terms under which the land was granted.
 
In the 1960s, longtime Parks director Vin Hebert proposed that Springside Park, which already enjoyed some of the greatest biodiversity and natural wonder of any public land in town, be home to a “world class arboretum” for display and education about native trees and other plants.  “At least one park system of a city should have horticultural interest, and this is highly appropriate at Springside,” Hebert wrote. Five subsequent arboretum master plan assessments and studies by professional consultants, from 1963 to 2000, echoed the wisdom of this use for Springside, above all others.
 
Numerous studies, planning documents and the wishes of the park's donors have always said Springside should mostly be limited to low-impact activities that preserve its natural beauty

Numerous studies, planning documents and the wishes of the park’s donors have always said Springside should mostly be limited to low-impact activities that preserve its natural beauty

“The idea of a single-use, restricted area such as a dog park violates the original intent, the spirit, and the letter of the deed, as well as subsequent plans developed by the city’s park commissioners and superintendents,” according to Friends of Springside founding member Royal Hartigan. “It is a betrayal of the Millers, and the public trust in what the park is, and the people of our city and county, whose public access to the core of the park’s beauty is an essential and unique part of Pittsfield’s heritage and quality of life.”

 
2) Will cost thousands in taxpayer dollars for this new construction, while even the most rudimentary park maintenance has gone neglected for years due to budget 
 
Even if a majority of funding is provided by the Stanton Foundation, as suggested in the proposal, the cost of implementing this project will amount to at least $15,000 dollars, not including unforeseen costs and necessary future upkeep.  Meanwhile, requests for such simple items as trash barrels and other minor expenses have been largely ignored, and park organizations have been told that even the cost of replacing simple signs made in-house by the city (such as those prohibiting motorized vehicles which have wreaked untold destruction on the natural forest) are simply “too expensive” for the city to take on, despite a cost of only a meager few dollars.  A request for removal or replacement of a broken and potentially dangerous bench has been neglected for more than a year now.  The city has allocated no funds whatsoever to support efforts to further establish and enhance the unique attraction of Berkshire County’s only arboretum at Springside, a plan approved by Mayor Wojtkowski and the city council more than 20 years ago.  If funds are lacking for even some of the most basic upkeep of the existing park, it is hard to see how room can then be found in the budget toward a new major capital project, and even more doubtful that the requisite funds for its maintenance will be available in the future.  
 
3) Poses environmental issues not suitable for an ecologically sensitive area
 
Dog urine and feces have a measurable environmental effect which is exponentially increased when many dogs are concentrated in a small area. Dog waste is commonly cited as either the 3rd or 4th largest contributor of bacterial pollution in urban watersheds.  Dog feces has higher phosphorous rates than that found in cow manure, broiler chicken litter or swine manure.  Dog urine contains significant levels of excess nitrogen, a form of nutrient pollution that is compounded when concentrated, and excess runoff can lead to serious water quality issues.  A 2002 study of a Colorado dog park found that native grasses (especially plentiful in the meadows of this section of Springside) accustomed to low nitrogen levels were unable to compete with nitrogen-loving exotic invasive species that flourished when dog waste increased on the site.  While signage at the dog park will indicate the expectation that owners pick up after their dogs (only feces, and not urine obviously), there is little reason to think this will be universally or even largely obeyed.  Analysis of other dog parks has shown that hundreds of pounds of feces can be left behind in a matter of weeks, and given recent park history, it is absurd to think that city maintenance staff will rigorously maintain upkeep in this regard. 
 
Additionally, further ecological damage to this area will be caused by the construction of the dog park itself, which includes the need to install underground plumbing for water access.
The proposed site of the dog park is flanked on both sides by wetlands and biodiverse watershed area

The proposed site of the dog park is flanked on both sides by wetlands and biodiverse watershed area

 
wetlands2All of these factors make a dog park extremely inappropriate in the proposed location, immediately adjacent to wetlands and at a nexus of several different model ecosystems of the Arboretum, at a site that is frequently used as a gathering point for naturalist programs for the general public and schools from around the region.
 
4) The decision process has been undertaken without regard for public transparency and community input
 
The original determination to locate a dog park at this particular site in Springside was made quietly behind closed doors by a hand-picked ad hoc committee in 2007, without any attempt to seek or acknowledge input from the public or volunteer park groups.  At subsequent Parks Commission meetings on the issue, no members of the public spoke in favor of this concept, while many spoke against it. It was voted in favor 3-1, with the sole opposing vote by Charles Garivaltis, who was then not re-appointed by former Mayor Ruberto. Funding never materialized, and attempts to raise funds privately for this project failed, demonstrating a lack of true interest and widespread disdain for the plan as approved.
 
When an outside funding source for a large portion of the project was finally found, in the form of a private dog park foundation who will oversee and control much of the process, preparations quietly resumed.  Springside Park organizations were finally notified that this resumed effort had progressed significantly just one week before a city council vote to accept a grant for design of this dog park, and at a meeting on Saturday were informed that while public input is nominally “welcome,” it would have zero impact  on the decision of where to locate the proposed dog park, and that ultimately this call would be made by a landscape architect hired through this design grant, sounding suspiciously like a foregone conclusion that would conform to the opinion (of officials, not of the public) already advanced.
 
5) Plan lacks community support and is opposed by the volunteer organizations who actually take care of Springside Park.
 
Since the first attempt to move this forward by a small group within city government 6 years ago, it was unanimously opposed by the Friends of Springside Park and the Vincent Hebert Arboretum, and some members of the Springside Greenhouse Group and Morningside Initiative have now joined this chorus.  Just in the past year, the decades-old Friends of Springside and Arboretum on their own have contributed more than 1,000 hours of labor to clean up, maintain, improve and beautify Springside Park, far more work-hours than all city staff combined. It is probably safe to say that no one knows the park, its users, its needs and appropriate uses than the very organizations who conduct all of their activities toward maintaining the park for the good of all residents.  Those who arguably know better than any what best suits the future of Pittsfield’s largest park are entirely opposed to the plan *as currently proposed.*   This input has been entirely overlooked by a small number of decision makers in advancing the plan anyway.
 
In addition to park groups, other parties with knowledge of this plan have also concurred that the proposed location in this iconic, historic area of the park is a poor choice.
 
6) Pittsfield has numerous other recreational areas more fitting for a dog park
 
The city contains some 30 parks and playgrounds other than the one that has been designated for the preservation and appreciation of nature, which the state has identified as having prime agricultural soils, and which serves as the most intensive constant site of ecological education for students from elementary school to college. Additionally, Springside Park is the only Pittsfield park on the National Register of Historic Places, and which the city just recently entered into a Preservation Restriction with the Commonwealth.
In some of these alternate open spaces, a dog park is not only more appropriate, but actually desired by residents, in contrast to the widespread opposition at Springside. For instance, an online poll conducted by former Ward 4 city council Michael Ward found that 83% of his constituents desired a dog park at Kirvin Park.  
 The decision to try to site this project at the core of Springside Park, where it is strongly opposed, versus other neighborhood parks favored by many, is hard to understand, except in terms of the haste in which cursory site visits were conducted as part of the Parks Commission subcommittee process in 2007, a speedy evaluation that has not since been revisited for this new project.
 
 
7) This development is being touted as a “solution” to a perceived problem of off-leash dog walking at Springside Park, but there is no logical reason to believe there is any correlation between the two.
dog park
 
“I would walk on a path system through woods with strategically placed trash barrels spread over the entire Springside Park.  That’s doable…designated  dog paths,” said Pat Pritchard, Co-President of the Springside Greenhouse Group and an avid dog walker   “It would be less costly and more human and dog friendly.  An enclosed area with strange dogs running around is a very bad idea.”
 
Diverse opinions on the complexities of canine psychology aside, even common sense should dictate that the long scenic rambles through hundreds of acres of wooded trails, as is the habit of virtually all dog walkers currently, is a completely different animal than running dogs about in a less-than-one-acre fenced in patch of dirt.  While a demand for both may well exist in Pittsfield, it is absurd to suggest they are the same thing, or that the latter would replace the former activity for most dog owners.
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Conclusion:
It is time for the city to go back to the drawing board on this project, and restart the planning process with an open, inclusive discussion that has never taken place, one which takes into account the opinions and voices of Pittsfield residents and park advocates, as opposed to just a tiny handful of city staff and officials deciding without asking anyone.

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ADDENDUM:  While the original project ok’d 3-1 by the Parks Commission was dubbed an experimental “pilot” program that called for simply an $8,000 fence which could be removed if unsuccessful, this new proposal calls for a $150,000+ major construction which cannot be easily or cheaply undone, if at all.  Source: Berkshire Eagle, 2/13/08  As such, this completely new, completely different proposal has never been voted on by the city’s Parks Commission, and therefore a request to the city council to approve a grant for its design is premature for a project which has never been properly put out for public input or approved by that board.  The City Council therefore, has a procedural obligation to refer the request for this project back to the Parks Commission, hopefully with an emphatic message that said body invite, and listen to, input from the public, in a way that was not done during the approval of the previous  smaller-scale project.

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