Last week brought news that a group of area residents have petitioned Keene’s City Council to designate a site for a community dog park. Although the specifics of their vision are in important respects new, the principal challenges the proposal must overcome remain much the same as those that torpedoed dog-park proposals over the past decade — getting the city’s commitment to a feasible site, and fundraising.
Over that period, myriad sites have been eyed in Keene or nearby, including at Carpenter Field, near Bent Court, squeezed between two youth baseball fields in Wheelock Park and at Dillant-Hopkins Airport. All those proposals foundered, and in all cases but one the city backed off due to objections from neighbors concerned about noise, traffic, loss of use of trails, or some combination of them. The exception was the Wheelock Park between-the-ballfields site, which at about a third of an acre was too small and perhaps dangerous.
The latest initiative, submitted on behalf of the dog park group by Keene resident Rebecca Lancaster, again proposes a Wheelock Park site, but this time in the former campground, which the city discontinued in 2018 due to low use and the need for costly infrastructure upgrades. The campground space has about 2.5 to 3 acres, according to Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andy Bohannon, and Lancaster says the group is hoping to fence off 1 to 2 acres for the dog park. Among the site’s other advantages she cites are its distance from any houses, its easy accessibility and existing nearby parking. She also argues a dog park could be a plus for Keene in attracting young people and families to move or stay here, a point echoed by Keene Mayor George Hansel, who says he likes the idea of bringing a dog park to Keene.
Hansel notes, however, that other sites might be possible and said the airport is again being considered, possibly in partnership with Swanzey. While that location may also have its advantages as a potential site, the city backed away from an earlier airport proposal when faced with opposition from neighbors. Also, Bohannon says he expects a group of disc golf enthusiasts to submit a proposal to put a course in the campground area. All that highlights a principal need for the dog park proposal: getting the City Council to agree to a site and then to stick with the commitment.
Without that, dog park enthusiasts will never overcome the other significant obstacle — raising funds to support the project. Over the years, about $10,000 has been raised that sits in a city account, and Lancaster says a corporate sponsor in the pet industry has pledged an additional $10,000 to the project. That’s certainly a leg up, but Bohannon estimates the project could cost over $100,000. Surely the city should be willing to contribute some amount to that. However, like other recreational projects — the skate park, for instance — significant additional private fundraising and volunteer commitment will be necessary to build it and provide for ongoing upkeep. The dog park group will need to better organize itself, possibly as a nonprofit organization, to attract donations and grants, but it will first need the city to commit to a site to center its fundraising efforts on.
It appears there’s meaningful enough interest for the city to take the proposal seriously. The dog park group’s Facebook page has more than 1,700 followers and 450 individuals so far have signed the group’s petition to the city. And, although it’s difficult to estimate how many residents might use a dog park, it’s worth noting the city has budgeted to issue 2,800 licenses during the current fiscal year and, anecdotally, dog ownership has been increasing during the pandemic.
The Wheelock Park campground has much to recommend it as a dog park site. Whether there or at another location, however, it’s time for the city to commit to a feasible site.