The town of Milton plans to open its long-awaited dog park this fall, as long as one last study doesn’t get in the way.
The park is planned for a three-acre plot at Bombardier Park West, just behind the Bill Black Little League Field. The town has earmarked $36,000 to convert the forested land there into a level field for dogs of all sizes to play.
And therein lies the issue.
Since the project requires digging, the Vt. Division for Historic Preservation said construction could disturb “significant pre-contact Native American archaeological sites.” As such, the state has required a $5,400 study before signing off on the town’s Act 250 permit amendment.
“I’ve explored all the ways to try to not get [the study] done, but there’s no way,” town manager Don Turner said.
This included calling the Act 250 commission – headed by his predecessor, Donna Barlow Casey – to ask for lenience, to no avail.
As soon as this week, consultants will begin taking soil samples for analysis. Turner fully expects they’ll find chert, a stone Native Americans shaped into tools. The state says the dog park’s location near the Lamoille River makes the probability high.
But Turner doesn’t anticipate the findings will greatly impact the project, which was sited for the spot nearly more than four years ago. Barlow Casey suggested the town could move it to an already “disturbed” location, but Turner said the town has spent too much on engineering to scrap plans now.
Residents, too, have suggested the town consider another place for the dog park. Recently, dog owners have told Turner the park won’t be easily accessible since they’ll have to park on Park Place, several hundred feet from the entrance, and then trek into the woods to reach the dog park’s actual gates.
Others have expressed worries over ticks, flies and other nuisances in the wooded area.
“There was a very public process that identified that location that the board approved,” Turner said. “If we stop, all the money we’ve invested for this location goes away.”
Turner aims to open the park by fall and from there, the town could investigate a permit to build an entrance through the wetlands that surround the locale, possibly with a bridge.
If the dog park isn’t used, the town could talk about repurposing the cleared land, he said.
But there’s a good chance it will be, rec coordinator Kym Duchesneau said.
“Every single minute of the day, at least one or two people are out there with their dog,” she said. “That pretty much speaks for itself. It would be nice to have a designated area so they can use that space.”
Indeed, a dog park has long been on a list of desired amenities for Milton. A 2006 study included in Milton Recreation’s 20-year plan showed a dog park sixth on the list of most-desired facilities in town, placing after bike paths, indoor skating and swimming and a larger senior center.
Until 2014, the town planned to site the dog park at the old landfill, but Duchesneau said parking there would be tricky. She regularly hears of dog owners traveling to St. Albans or Burlington just to find a place where canines can socialize, leash-free.
The momentum in Milton’s dog park plans pleased Carly Buswell, owner of Cosmo’s Cuts grooming studio on Route 7 and one of several citizens who have weighed in on the need for a dog park in town.
“[There are a lot of] people here who don’t have yards – look at the condos,” she said. “Dogs need socialization, just like people. When they don’t, that’s when they get aggressive because they’re not around other dogs. It’s important.”
Once built, the dog park will be just one of several spruce-ups at Bombardier Park this year, including a new field house, re-shingled and painted dugouts and revitalized basketball courts.
It will have separate sections for large and small dogs, plus benches, trash receptacles and trees. Duchesneau envisions adding agility features in the future, with the help of fundraised dollars.
The dog park will help the town promote its message that Milton public lands are for all ages, Turner said.
“Many people feel this property is just for kids and their families,” he said. “The [selectboard] has said, and I believe, we want this property that everybody owns to get to use it.”
Barlow Casey said once Milton gets through the red tape, the dog park will create a space for human interaction, too. Years ago, a dog park near Barlow Casey’s former home in the Pacific Northwest introduced her pup to new friends and she and her husband to their neighbors.
“Prior to that, I would never had valued a dog park,” she said. “I’m glad to see that it’s coming to fruition.”