There’s good news and bad news for those who use and enjoy the Shelburne Village Dog Park: the park can stay in its location on Harbor Road, but many of its added features are being removed.
That’s what town and state officials have decided after working for the past two years to resolve the fact that the park is situated on a wetland, but its improvements have exceeded what state regulators consider appropriate for an environmentally-sensitive spot.
So far this spring, the storage shed and benches from the park have been relocated a short distance to the east in a gravel parking area. A sculpture and exercise ring have been taken out. Boulders lining the path at the park’s entry still need to be removed and a water spigot near the front fence will be disconnected, officials said.
The steps are being taken to bring the park into compliance with state regulations that allow for a park in a wetland but do not allow for any significant alterations to the site without a permit, explained Laura LaPierre, wetlands program manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We gave them a to-do list,” LaPierre said. When it is completed, the park would be a “passive” use that respects the wetland environment, she said.
Opened in 2012, the park measures approximately 3 acres on the north side of Harbor Road. Wetlands in the back of the park are adjacent to the LaPlatte River.
LaPierre said the fencing on site to close off the park so that dogs can run off leash is fine under state regulations. It was the addition of boulders and gravel as well as the shed and benches that caused the state to say the park was in violation of wetlands rules.
That news came two years ago and since then, the Shelburne Dog Park Committee along with Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Cieplicki and both past and current town managers looked at other town-owned properties to see if there was another spot to relocate the park.
They recently concluded that the existing spot was still be best because the location is central to the village where people can either easily walk to it, or drive and park nearby, Cieplicki said. Its shade and distance from homes were factors as well, she added.
Dog Park Committee Chair Bob Owens calls the park “such a nice space.” The decision for it to stay put means steps now are needed to “undevelop” the park, he explained.
“I’m sure some people will be upset that the benches are gone but that’s the way it’s got to be for now,” he said.
A site visit will be scheduled this summer once the list of alterations is completed. In the meantime, the park is open and local residents and their canine companions may use it, Owens said.
Cieplicki said going forward, the town is very limited in what it may do on the site regarding maintenance. The fence can be adjusted or repaired as needed but any mowing – including trimming tall grass and weeds along the pathways – is forbidden.
Parks officials acknowledged that tall vegetation could pose problems with ticks in summertime.
Owens said the committee will wait and see how the park looks and what users have to say as they consider the future of the park. While permitting the entire site would be costly, the committee may consider requesting permission to keep the entry maintained, he said. So far, however, the committee has not discussed that step, he added.
The park has caught the attention of state officials who are reviewing wetlands regulations as they relate to a variety of uses including farms and recreation fields. Shelburne state Rep. Jessica Brumsted said she and Dog Park Committee member Rosalyn Graham testified before the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry about how the rules are affecting the park. Updates to the state rules could affect how the park is managed in the future, she said.