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10/12/2017

Changes looming for off-leash dog area in Fort Williams Park

In a compromise move to balance needs of all who walk in Fort Williams Park, the town is looking to modify the area where dogs may run off-leash.

The proposal would no longer allow dogs on the multi-purpose playing fields during sports seasons, but, would expand the area where they could be off leash to include part of the green near Portland Head Light.

The Fort Williams Park Committee has been talking about the current off-leash area with interested parties for the past year, committee Chair Mark Russell told members of the Town Council at their meeting Oct. 11, 2017. The committee is sensitive to the needs of dog-walkers, Russell said, but, "what we came down to, at the end of the day ... it's a safety issue for us," he said.

"We don't believe that dogs should be allowed on a field where children play sports," Russell said.

The committee is recommending that dogs no longer be allowed on the multipurpose fields - behind the maintenance garage near the children's playground - between April 15-June 15 and Aug. 15-Oct. 15; and, that the off-leash area be extended to include a portion of the "The Green" to a line from the southerly end of Battery Blair extending easterly to the Cliff Walk.

The committee is also recommending the language in the dog ordinance describing the off-leash area be reviewed and conform to the area map.

The Town Council voted unanimously to refer the recommendation to its ordinance subcommittee, but some said they believed no dog should be allowed off-leash in the park anywhere at any time. Councilors Kathy Ray and Jessica Sullivan, both dog owners, said untethered dogs are intimidating to other dogs and to people, that enforcing off-leash rules are costly, and that droppings left on playing fields are a safety hazard.

"I think it's a safety issue, and if we keep it simple ... it's a lot easier for park rangers to deal with it," said Sullivan. "Just on-leash at all times - pure and simple," she said.

Proposed updates to the dog ordinance are on the Ordinance Committee's agenda for Oct. 19, 2 p.m. at Town Hall.