PORTSMOUTH — The town’s first off-leash dog park could be up and running within a year at Melville Park if all goes as planned.The entrance area on the left side of the recreation area was unanimously endorsed by the Town Council Monday night to be the location for the fenced-in dog park after a presentation was made by the Caroline “Bunny” Miller, chairwoman of the Dog Park Planning Committee.
The council-appointed study panel, which has assured the town it will raise all the necessary funds to build the park through fund-raising and grants, had narrowed its list down to five sites. The others are:
• The town-owned Triple S property on the south side of Sandy Point Avenue
• The upper portion of Melville Park along Mott Farm Road
• the Portsmouth Middle School leach field on Jepson Lane
All five sites have their own problems, said Ms. Miller, who was looking for help from the council to “nail down” a location. “Our committee is not unanimous on what they would prefer for a site,” she said.
Among the basic criteria for a dog park, she said, is that it’s easily accessed by car or foot; has enough space for two fenced areas; parking for 10 to 12 cars with overflow nearby; good drainage and easily maintainable ground surface; on-site monitoring and/or a phone number to report violations; preferably has running water and electricity; benches, shade and more.
The entrance area to Melville Park was the panel’s first choice, partly because it has plenty of space, is non-residential (no abutters), is centrally located, partially shaded and has access to nearby trails. The downsides of the location is that it will be expensive to clear the bittersweet vines away and that it’s currently not easily accessed, said Ms. Miller.
“The biggest problem with this area is that it’s not very well known how you even get to Melville,” she said, adding that Bradford Avenue by the Melville School playground is one access point, the other being the badly rutted Sullivan Road off Stringham Road.
Another con is that the campground manager does not support a dog park there, she said.
The council, however, unanimously endorsed the Melville entranceway site, with some members saying the dog park would help attract more people to one of Portsmouth’s little-known jewels. (Because the Melville property was deeded to the town through the Department of the Interior, Ms Miller said, the dog park at Melville would have to be open to everyone, not just Portsmouth residents.)
“It probably would improve people’s knowledge of a very nice recreational area,” said Council President James Seveney, adding that it could even bring in more revenue to the town (people pay to stay at the campgrounds at Melville).
Council member Keith Hamilton agreed. “I do feel it would get people out to Melville to see what a beautiful site it is,” he said.
Dog owner and council member David Gleason also liked the Melville spot, although he most likely won’t frequent the dog park. “I can’t picture my dog running around with 10 other dogs. I don’t think it’s for everybody,” he said, adding that he’s concerned about the costs of needed road improvements in the area.
‘Healing for me’
Mr. Seveney reminded everyone that Ms. Miller initiated the dog park study last year after losing her dog, Oscar, in a “horrifying accident.”
(While Ms. Miller was walking him, Oscar was attacked and killed by a neighbor’s dog that had been running loose. Ms. Miller has said that before Oscar’s vision failed, he loved romping with other dogs at the Newport Off-Leash Dog Park on Connell Highway.)
“She turned it right around to do something good for the town, for other dog owners,” said Mr. Seveney.
Ms. Miller credited the other eight people on the dog study panel for the enormous help they’ve given her over the past year. “It’s been fun and it’s been very healing for me,” she said.
After the council voted, Ms. Miller said she would return when the committee had some definitive plans for the dog park.
“If the grants come through and early fund-raising efforts are successful, we could be open in a year,” she said. “I look forward to Portsmouth having the best dog park in Rhode Island and maybe New England,” said Ms. Miller.