A dog park or a disc-golf course?
That’s the choice Keene city councilors will consider in coming weeks after two local groups pitched different uses for the same piece of land in Wheelock Park.
In the spring, the city was approached by the Keene Disc Golf Club, which hopes to use the old Wheelock Park campground — which closed in 2018 due to low attendance — to build a second disc-golf course that would be more user friendly than the organization’s existing course at Otter Brook State Park. Then, last month, the city received a request from Rebecca Lancaster, who represents a group of people who have been trying for years to build a dog park in Keene, to consider letting them use the campground space for that purpose.
On Wednesday, both groups addressed the council’s Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee to explain why they feel the land should be used for their project. The committee voted unanimously (with the exception of Councilor Bryan Lake, an active member of the disc-golf group who recused himself) to place both items on “more time.” This will allow more information to be gathered before the panel makes a decision.
“The one thing we need from both is really a design and their nonprofit organizations [to serve as fiscal agents],” said Andy Bohannon, Keene’s parks, recreation and facilities director.
Bohannon has been working with the two groups to explore the possibility of using the site and said both ideas are conducive to the space that’s available at Wheelock Park, which is located off Park Avenue. He said while the disc-golf proposal is relatively new, efforts to establish a dog park in Keene have been in the works for a long time.
Lancaster, a Keene Board of Education member who is currently taking the lead on the dog-park initiative, told the committee Wednesday that a petition in support of the project had garnered more than 600 signatures. The location is ideal for a dog park, she said, as it’s close to Wheelock Park amenities such as restrooms and parking, but far enough from the nearest home to avoid any issues for nearby landowners, which has been a concern during past conversations about a dog park at other locations.
“The benefits for having a dog park is there really are no others locally in adjoining or adjacent towns,” Lancaster told the committee. “I was actually surprised, moving up here, that there wasn’t an established dog park in a town this size. So it’s a safe space for community members to exercise and socialize their dogs. It’s a great amenity ... something else that Keene could offer to attract families and young professionals and such to the area.”
Several people spoke during Wednesday’s meeting in support of the dog-park proposal. One of them, Rebecca Cloud, said she thinks it’s a great idea and that it would help address concerns about people walking their dogs on bike trails or letting them run in open fields.
“Part of the problem with that is just that people don’t have anywhere for their dogs to run and kind of release their energy and play,” she said. “And I think having a dog park is kind of a nice meeting-in-the-middle kind of thing, where people can bring their dogs somewhere and let them cut loose and run around and play and burn off energy. And it won’t interfere with the public.”
Meanwhile, Robert Johnson, from the Keene Disc Golf Club, said a course would be a good fit with other activities at the park and that the group would handle all the ongoing maintenance required at the facility, as it does at Otter Brook. He also said the spot would make for a less challenging course than Otter Brook, making it more family-friendly.
The Otter Brook course has done well, Johnson said, attracting players from around New England. But he said it’s not always suitable for younger players or those who are just learning the game, which is also known as Frisbee golf.
“As successful as Otter Brook has been, one thing that it is not is beginner-friendly,” Johnson said. “Lack of access off-season, changes in elevation and sometimes rugged topography can be overwhelming to new players, and this is where Wheelock comes in.”
He added that the club would commit to designing the course and raising the funds to build it and install signage, adding that he’s confident the group has the financial resources to fill in any fundraising gaps. If all goes in the group’s favor, he said, a spring completion date is “very doable.”
Councilors on the committee expressed interest in both proposals but agreed they need more information before making a decision. Councilor Andrew Madison pointed to Living Memorial Park in Battleboro, where he said a disc-golf course and a dog park are operated at the same facility.
Lancaster suggested a dog park may be more widely appreciated than a disc-golf course, saying that a broader portion of the community might take advantage of it. But she added that she’d be willing to find a way to share the space if possible.
“There’s quite a few more acres there than the dog park needs,” she said. “So I would love a chance to just sit down together and brainstorm and see if there’s a way to make that space work for both groups.”