Dog park plan faces deadline

Town reveals Ryders Lane land as tentative location

The Stratford Dog Park Association (SDPA) has spent three years and thousands of hours raising funds to build a dog park in Stratford. Now they are facing a self-imposed two-month deadline.

“If it doesn’t get done, we have made the decision to refund the grant money to Petco and give the rest of the money to an animal rescue group,” said Matt DeBernardo, vice president of the SDPA. “We have raised a lot of money, but dealing with [town] government isn’t the easiest thing.”

Meanwhile, the town has stated that it is still interested and in the process of securing land for the park.

“There is no objection from the town to building a dog park,” said Marc Dillon, chief of staff of the mayor’s office, “but the dearth of open space in town has made this somewhat of a challenge. But we think we are on the brink of finding a solution for everyone involved.”

The land the town is working to acquire is approximately 1.5 acres just north of Ryders Lane and just south of the Merritt Parkway. It is currently owned by the state.

Councilman Joseph Kubic, 9th District (R), who is also the council representative for the Roosevelt Forest Commission, said the commission dismissed the use of the forest, which was originally considered. The location “wasn’t an option they were happy about,” he said. “And we found a place, and I think it’s a great place.”

“We thought the location, right off the parkway, where the bridge meets the river, was a better location,” Kubic said. “And it’s land the state is giving to the town, away from the populace, that will serve all the purposes.”

Time of the essence
However, time is of the essence for the Stratford Dog Park Association. The volunteer-fueled charitable association was awarded a $5,000 capital grant from the Petco Foundation in October. The SDPA must provide progress reports and photographic proof that the project is moving forward within six months of the award in order to officially accept the funds.

Matt DeBernardo and his wife, Carissa DeBernardo, president of the association, said on Jan. 23 they have the $5,000 check in hand. They will not cash it until the town of Stratford has assured them the land has been secured and they can begin building.

Since they established the SDPA, the DeBernardos and their board have raised an additional $9,500 through a variety of fund-raisers.

“In the past three years, dog parks have gone up in Ansonia-Derby, Cromwell, and they are starting one in Fairfield,” said Carissa DeBernardo. “We have been the only group that has the momentum, and the organization is not getting the response that we wanted. It is frustrating.”

Matt DeBernardo added that the town has always been receptive to the idea, and they have been “great to work with.” As of Feb. 4, the SDPA had not received word from town officials confirming the land acquisition.

“I think the town wants it to happen, but there there are competing priorities at the moment,” Matt DeBernardo said. “[The project is] hung up with logistics and the implementation of who is going to run and operate the park.”

Dillon said that the town attorney’s office is “in the process of drafting an agreement between the town and the SDPA” that will clarify the roles the town and the volunteer organization would have in maintaining the park.

“We have been working with them for more than a year now and are hopeful we have arrived at a solution that will benefit all parties,” Dillon said. “We are aware of the timeline and are doing what we can meet the Petco time constraints.”

Planning next steps
Dillon stated that once the property transfer occurs, the project would be coordinated primarily by Public Works, and the land “will essentially become part of the parks system.” He did not provide an estimate of the cost to build the park or an
PA board decided to put future fund raising on hold until it was sure the project was going to move forward. Matt DeBernardo said he believed town leadership was occupied by elections, the Army Engine Plant and others priorities that pushed the project to the back burner.

The DeBernardos, who are officers of the SDPA 501(c)(3), moved to Fairfield recently for work reasons, although they have close family ties in Stratford. They stated, however, that they will make alternate plans for the SDPA funds and leadership after April if the dog park plan remains unresolved.

“It’s in our bylaws that the money would be donated to a pet rescue group,” Carissa DeBernardo said. “We are working with STARS [Stratford Animal Rescue Shelter] to figure what is the best option as a backup to the park if it comes down to that.”

Success in Shelton
Ron Herrick, director of parks and recreation for the town of Shelton, oversees the management of that town’s dog park, which has been up and running for more than three years. He said it cost approximately $20,000 to build the park, which was paid for by funds raised by the Friends of Shelton Dog Park, a volunteer organization that helps maintain the park, organize cleanups and beautify the park.

Herrick said the town and the organization have an excellent relationship, and that the volunteer group has been instrumental in planting gardens, trimming grass, managing relationships with pet owners, and organizing events at the site. He said the site has gotten “a lot of use” — much more than expected — and has been a positive improvement for the town.

“[Some councilmen] were surprised it has gotten much more use than they thought,” Herrick said. “Some people wanted to make it half the size. We have the space and we might enlarge it to another half-acre.”

This parcel of land off of Ryders Lane, which is off of Route 110 / River Road near the Merritt Parkway, is being proposed for a dog park by the Town of Stratford. It is currently owned by the State of Connecticut. Greg Reilly photo.

This parcel of land off of Ryders Lane, which is off of Route 110 / River Road near the Merritt Parkway, is being proposed for a dog park by the Town of Stratford. It is currently owned by the State of Connecticut. Greg Reilly photo.

About author
Elizabeth Howard is a Stratford-based journalist, blogger and poet. She writes on the arts, education, music, the environment, green lifestyle, American culture, travel and food. You can find her online at elizabethoward.net

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