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Trails Committee discusses upcoming ‘Dogs on Trails?’ forum

by | Apr 18, 2024 | News

The Trails Committee at its meeting Wednesday night laid out its plans for its upcoming forum seeking public input on trial periods for dogs to be allowed off-leash on trails.

“Dogs on Trails?” will take place on Wednesday, May 1, at the Hopkinton Senior Center from 6:30-8:30 p.m., according to organizer Krisanne Connell. It will be an interactive event where dog owners, trail users and those who have concerns about unleashed dogs causing potential harm can share their viewpoints.

Chair Peter LaGoy said the timing of the event is important. It precedes Annual Town Meeting on May 6, when an article on this issue will be presented. He noted that, according to the town bylaw, it is technically illegal to have dogs unleashed at the dog park.

The article contains “housekeeping measures” to alert residents of the policy. LaGoy said the town added a phrase to the article stating that leashes must provide physical restraint rather than electronic.

“What we’re doing is to have this forum and look at various temporary control measures to see if we can potentially come up with some better solutions,” he explained. “This [article] would allow us to try some of those.”

Proposed changes to the dog policy on trails will be implemented on a trial basis. After garnering public feedback on proposed locations and times, the committee will request trial periods through the Select Board.

The forum will focus on small-group brainstorming sessions where the pros and cons of allowing dogs to be unleashed. There will be a mapping exercise noting areas of concern as well as trails where it would be most feasible for dogs to be allowed off-leash for certain time frames. Solutions and next steps will be discussed after group leaders share their findings.

LaGoy noted that some people may love dogs but may have had bad experiences with unleashed dogs in the past. He has contacted animal control officer Bill Proctor about the forum. Member Linda Chuss said some dog owners might also have concerns about unleashed dogs on trails impacting their dogs.

The committee will be stepping up its public awareness campaign for the event, displaying posters at key town locations, including the dog park, trailheads, veterinary clinics and the Baypath Humane Society animal shelter. Members will be present at the upcoming Know Your Vote forum on April 29 to discuss the article. Chuss stressed the importance of promoting the event via local and social media to attract a range of stakeholders.

Beavers cause dam problem for trails

Member Chuck Dauchy noted that “eager beavers” have been wreaking havoc on dams, which has flooded some trails.

“Within the last two weeks, they now have a dam that knocks out a key trail linkage and intersection,” he said, although he did not specify the location.

LaGoy added that a concrete bridge “is at least a foot underwater.”

Dauchy said some trails may need to be rerouted due to the beaver activity. Bridges may need to be used to mitigate the water’s impact, and money will need to be allocated in the budget for the materials,

Added Dauchy: “We are working around [the beavers] and with them.”

Progress made on website with town

Chuss noted that there has been progress made on the Trails Committee’s website through the town. Work commenced six weeks ago, and information on six trails has been updated. Dauchy noted that trail connections should be annotated.

“Our approach is to get all the trails added here and to get all the information filled in in a consistent manner,” Chuss explained. She noted that previously, the town had connected the wrong links to some trails, which prompted the Trails Committee to discuss creating an independent website.

The project will be implemented in phases. Future iterations will include an interactive map, news about trail activities, safety information, and details about water-oriented trails and trails with longer loops.

Volunteer engagement encouraged

Chuss recently attended a webinar on volunteer engagement and shared her findings with the committee. She stressed the importance of recognizing how volunteers’ values and interests intersect with the committee’s mission. Letting volunteers know the necessary skill sets beforehand, saying that training will be provided, and integrating newcomers with veteran volunteers were highlighted strategies.

8 Comments

  1. Miss T. Fied

    Who gave the trails committee authority over the Dog Park? Talk about overreach. It is absurd to extend the leash law, enacted years before there were dog parks anywhere. The Dog Park is not on, along or adjacent to any trail. The Dog Park is under the care, custody and control of the Parks and Recreation Committee. Stay in your lane trail committee. Don’t you have enough to do seizing control of other activity in town. Why not take over the school properties? The current leash law does apply and dogs are frequently off-leash on school properties.

    Reply
    • Peter LaGoy

      Off-leash dogs on trails are a frequently-raised concern. However, as seen at last year’s town meeting, residents have a range of opinions on the matter, with some folks fearful of dogs, and others strong proponents of dogs being allowed off leash. We as a committee were discussing this issue prior to last year’s town meeting, and after hearing the discord, decided that any solution to balancing concerns and desires, would be complicated. Therefore, we thought it best to get public involvement in the process. Recognizing that this is not just a trail-specific issue but a town-wide issue, we felt it best to engage the town, not just trail users.

      The primary purpose of this year’s proposed bylaw change is to allow possible solutions to be tested on a temporary basis, with the Select Board’s approval. This process will allow folks to weigh in at several points. We recognize that there is no perfect solution, but we do hope to balance the concerns and desires of all.

      As to the dog park, current use (dogs are off-leash in the park) is illegal per existing law, although of course, not enforced. We felt it made sense to fix this housekeeping issue. If you may recall, last year’s TM tried to fix this on-the-fly, which didn’t work.

      Reply
      • Miss T. Fied

        Again, you are the “trails committee” not the animal control officer or anyone meant to enforce our leash law. To say it is illegal for dogs to be off leash at the dog park is ridiculous. Housekeeping? How about overreach? By definition, dog parks are for dogs to be off leash. The existing bylaw was adopted long before any town had a dog park.

        Reply
  2. Miss T. Fied

    By the way, the word ‘illegal’ connotes criminal behaviour. Are off-leash dogs and their people committing a crime in your opinion? Are the dogs and their humans criminals? Would there be fines and jail for committing the crime of letting ones dog off-leash at the dog park?

    Reply
  3. Samuel G.

    Again, the Trails Committee is “Off the Rails”

    If I recall, these are the same people with a route being proposed for a new trail that would have crossed Hayden Rowe five times, before people pointed to the insanity of the plan. Now they want to manage the Dog Park.

    If you are on the Trails Committee, you should FOCUS ON THE TRAILS. Leave the dog park to those responsible for it. In my opinion, unleashed dogs on the trails are an unwarranted hazard that would lead to tragedy. (As will the idiotic Bike Lane along West Main Street).

    If these lunatics get this approved, I guess the trails would likely become a pretty scary place for residents.

    Reply
    • Peter LaGoy

      Some factual corrections. First, the Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC) proposed a trail crossing Hayden Rowe multiple times. The Trails Coordination and Management Committee or Trails Committee has taken no position on the matter, although several members (myself included) are on record as strongly opposed to the route.
      Second, unleashed dogs are already a concern on trails, which is the reason for the forum, which will be aimed at gathering information on how the concerns about off-leash dogs can perhaps be balanced against the desire of some dog owners to have their pets off-leash. Finally, by the clear language of the existing town bylaw, dogs should be leased on public property. Obviously, the dog park is a public space designed to allow dogs to be off-leash, and town bylaw should be amended to match that reality.

      Reply
  4. Linda Chuss

    This is not the committee proposing the trail crossing Hayden Rowe. That was the UCTC. The Trails committee is finding that people avoid trails because of off leash dogs. We want to find some ways for dogs and people to share trails and invite those who want to find solutions to come and explore that. One way might be limited times and trails where dogs are off leash, etc. Other towns have found ways – we can too.

    Reply
  5. Jim Murphy

    Trails are for People. Most dog bite cases occur because the animal was unleashed.

    Isn’t there a Massachusetts statewide leash law whereby a dog must be on a leash when out in public unless the animal is in a designated city dog park where owners or walkers may have their pets run free?

    Reply

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