They’ve Got Tails Wagging
This is the latest in The Sun’s “Be a Volunteer” series.
CHELMSFORD -- Every time a dog arrives at the Chelmsford Dog Park, a flurry of activity ensues.
All the dogs already inside rush to the entrance barking, excited to meet a new friend -- or see an old one -- for some playful fun outdoors in a spot that’s all their own.
The dog park was borne out of and continues to be run largely by volunteer efforts.
“There’s no tax money spent on the park,” said Chelmsford Dog Association President Will Wagner. “It’s all done by volunteers and donations, so we really depend on our park-goers to help us keep the park going.”
“It takes a village to build this,” said Vivian Merrill, one of the original co-founders of the group and its first president. “It’s a collaborative effort, and we hope it’s here for many years to come.”
Merrill also serves on the town’s Dog Park Advisory Committee, where she does a lot of grant writing to supplement the funds the CDA raises.
She said the idea for the park came about 10 years ago, the result of resident frustration with dog poop in public spaces around town.
Her husband, Animal Control Officer Erik Merrill, would often get complaints about canine excrement in places like parks, school yards and the rail trail, she said. Vivian Merrill said others would also complain about not having somewhere their dogs could run off-leash.
So the question became, “Why not give them a place they can go?” Merrill said.
The timing was right. The town was engaged in forming its 2010 master plan and actively looking at how open space was being used, she said.
The planning process took several years, meetings, site visits and hearings before it all started to come together. About 2013, the Department of Public Works was moving to Alpha Road and the 2-acre spot on Richardson Road once used for storage became available, Merrill said.
Town Manager Paul Cohen had also become aware of The Stanton Foundation, which would ultimately provide a significant amount of grant funding for the design, construction and landscaping of the park, she said.
“We did tons and tons of fundraising events,” said Merrill, who led the CDA for seven years from its inception. “The first six years of the CDA was just coming up with the matching payments to qualify for the grant award.”
A mix of individuals, groups and businesses donated some of the park’s favorite features, such as the shade structures. Pieces like the shed, brick patio and agility equipment came via Eagle Scout projects. DPW assisted with projects like water drainage and mounting benches.
The park officially opened in 2016, and quickly became a popular destination for dog lovers. It’s free and open for all to use and is one of the biggest parks of its kind in New England, drawing visitors from as far as Maine and Connecticut, Wagner said.
He and fellow board member Paul LeMadeleine often mow the grass in the warmer months and are the primary volunteer organizers, for both work parties and regular maintenance like removing trash and replenishing the donated poop bags for park users who forget their own to clean up after their dogs.
LeMadeleine said he started coming to the park because his dog, Luna, needs a lot of exercise. Then he got his second dog, Trinket, and found himself at the park as much as two to four hours a day. He became more and more involved in its operations, ultimately joining the board in November.
“Because my dogs are here, I want to maintain the park as a fun place for the dogs,” LaMadeleine said. “Everything i do here is to make their experience better.”
Merrill said the park has been an eye-opening learning experience. It has also spurred many friendships and even a few businesses, from small dog-walking and care operations to PUPS, a Lowell-based pet boutique and service provider that will soon open a second location billed as a pet “lifestyle center” in Burlington, she said.
She’s proud to see what the park has become.
“It makes you feel good because you took an idea and you ran with it, and saw it to its completion,” Merrill said. “And for the community, I think we did a good thing.”
Wagner said the list of tasks that need to be accomplished is never-ending, and the CDA is always looking for volunteers to help.
The Chelmsford Dog Park is located at 52 Richardson Road and is open daily from dawn to dusk, with periodic closures as conditions require. For more information, visit chelmsforddogassociation.org , facebook.com/ChelmsfordDogAssociation or facebook.com/ChelmsfordDogPark/ .
Follow Alana Melanson on Twitter @alanamelanson.