Montville Dog Park poised to open in spring

Montville — After years of fundraising and coordinating with volunteers and town officials, Chris Lawton calls the Montville Dog Park a grassroots effort that just needs some grass to grow.

"The sooner the grass starts growing, the sooner there will be a surface we can allow people and dogs to walk on," Lawton said Monday. "I've been saying from day one it depends on money and weather. We got the money to complete it, so now it (depends) on time and weather."

Lawton, of Oakdale, says the dog park should open before the summer. Construction began last May at the approximately one-acre site near the Camp Oakdale tennis courts off Route 163 and Simpson Lane.

The dog park was fenced in the fall and volunteers and town workers helped clear the area of rocks and debris. Lawton said organizers spread grass seed and plan to install signs and benches.

Lawton first pitched the idea for a dog park in town more than a decade ago, after the death of his dog, Kacey.

"I thought I could do it in her memory," he said. "At first, there wasn't much support or interest. But I didn't give up."

Eventually Lawton made contact with a like-minded group of pet owners who presented the idea to town officials, and the idea picked up steam.

"It's been a long battle," said Oakdale resident Chris Lynch, one of the volunteers who's served on the Parks and Recreation Commission's Dog Park Committee. "But we've gotten a lot of positive feedback throughout town. The closest dog parks are in Norwich and Colchester. I think it's a good opportunity not only for the animals but the whole community."

The Town Council approved plans for a dog park in 2014, and Lawton spearheaded the Dog Park Committee that helped raise almost $15,000 through raffles, craft fairs, donation drives and other fundraisers over the last few years.

While no taxpayer dollars have gone directly to the project, town crews donated labor including the removal of large rocks and some trees.

For the last several months the committee has been hammering out rules for the park, such as requiring owners to clean up after their pet; if a dog becomes aggressive, owners should remove the dog from the park; all dogs must be up to date on their shots; and all pets must be within sight of their owners.

"Common sense and courtesy" are the basis for the rules, which are still being tweaked, Lynch said.

Next month, the Town Council will hold hearings on proposed changes to town ordinances on open spaces and dogs. Lawton and Councilor Jeff Rogers said the updates would help provide the legal basis for allowing unleashed dogs within the fenced area of the dog park once it opens.

"It's a great project," Rogers said. "I'm looking forward to it and I think it will be another thing that hopefully attracts people to Montville."

Those hearings begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 12, at Town Hall.

b.kail@theday.com

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