Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dogged pursuit of dog park goes on

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday January 30, 2013

By Eric Heredia
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2243

WALLINGFORD - Mark Semrau walked into Community Lake Park Tuesday with his two basset hounds, Maya and Clancy, on a leash that would constantly get tangled as they walked around the grass, sniffed and made their way to wherever they wanted to do their business.

“If I let them go, I’d be able to catch them real quick” because they stop so frequently, Semrau said. He hopes to be able to unleash them routinely at the park when a dog park is built on a one-acre piece of land that has been cleared near the tennis court and parking lot off the Hall Avenue entrance.

“This is only a proposed site. We’ve looked at several others,” including a five-acre parcel on Garden Road and another on Cheshire Road, he said.

Semrau has organized a dozen volunteers to form the Wallingford Dog Lovers Association. They’ve been meeting regularly to discuss possible fundraising and how to jump through all the necessary hoops to build the park.

Once the plan is approved, they can look to gain nonprofit status and begin fundraising. He has estimated the cost to be $25,000 based on how much it cost to build a dog park in Rocky Hill. He hopes to have approval by the spring.

But John Gawlak, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, doesn’t want to commit to a timeline and has concerns about the site, particularly parking during the weekend when Little League players and parents, trail users and others, combined with dog owners, may overcrowd the lot. Noise may become an issue, so he wants the group to address that as well as whether the fence would fit in aesthetically.

“I want to exhaust all other sites first,” he said. He’s eyeing the site at Garden Road and Quinnipiac Street as an alternative. That spot is also a staging area where the Public Works Department puts brush after storms.

Semrau is also open to hearing from landowners who may donate a parcel for the project.

Gawlak has been working with Semrau since August and the proposal has gone through three revisions as Gawlak has gotten comment from Public Works, the mayor, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and animal control.

Semrau has been to 21 parks around the state. He’s impressed with the one in East Haven because it isn’t rectangular like most he’s seen, and he liked another on the Hart Nature Preserve in Rowayton that allows dogs access to Farm Creek.

One of his volunteers made renderings of a squarer model showing an entrance sign, information kiosk, separate sections and entrances for big and small dogs and benches inside the 4-foot chain-link fence. He said his basset hounds could run with bigger and smaller dogs.

Gawlak said the Parks and Recreation Commission would have to approve the plan and send it to the mayor.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he hasn’t heard anything definitive yet, but it’s certainly a possibility.

“A dog park will require volunteers to keep it clean,” he said. “If Public Works ... is going to keep the grass mowed, we’ll need people to keep the park free of dog feces.”

He also said rules should be in place to ensure that dog owners will have a safe and enjoyable visit. “Once the Parks and Recreation Department has a proposal in hand I’ll devote more time to it,” he said.

Semrau said the project is all about catering to responsible dog owners that would keep it clean. He added that dog owners who know their dog is aggressive or may jump over the fence “don’t belong at a dog park.”

The association’s next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Parks and Recreation Department Building, 6 Fairfield Blvd.

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