It was once an ironclad and near uniform policy position: Dogs and public parks just don't mix.
For decades, animal lovers wrestled with the begging gazes of leashed dogs that sought to range free about their community's beautifully manicured fields and recreation areas. But rather than commit the ultimate breach in public parks etiquette, not to mention risk the potential imposition of civil fines, most pet owners accepted that their pooches were relegated to the sidewalk.
Times sure have changed.
In the coming days, Woburn will become the latest area community to end its parks war against dogs by establishing a special space for pet owners to let their animals play.
According to Recreation Director Rory Lindstrom, the new dog park will be built outside of the baseball diamond at Ferullo Field off of Main Street, a popular recreational area in North Woburn. Being funded almost entirely through a Stanton Foundation grant, the new dog park will include separate play areas with boulder obstacles for both small and large breeds, as well as amenities like an animal waste station and a pet water fountain. The plans also include a dedicated parking area for visitors and their pets.
Contractor JNJ Sacca, which was recently awarded the $131,900 construction contract, is expected to break ground on the dog park within days. The Arlington-based company was one of eight firms that bid on the project last spring.
Grant funding will cover nearly 90 percent of the city's construction bill.
"It's been a long time coming," said Lindstrom of the dog park, explaining the city's Recreation Commission chose the Ferullo Field location in order to avoid playgrounds where small and young children congregate. "Finding the right location for this was key. We didn't believe that putting a dog park in an area where small children play was ideal."
Back in 2016 then City Council President Richard Haggerty joined Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco at a meeting with Kate Dumeer of the Stanton Foundation and later connected her with Woburn officials including Mayor Scott Galvin.
Over the past decade, Woburn's leaders, benefiting greatly through state and federal grant programs, have managed to steer millions of dollars towards upgrades and expansions of the city's numerous park resources.
More recent expenditures include the $2.9 million creation of the new Clapp Park at Fleming Field in the city's South End, the creation of a new veterans' memorial at Ferullo Field, and the 2014 opening of the new John D. McElhiney Field at Whispering Hill by the Burlington line.
According to Woburn Recreation Commission member Michael Martini, those investments come as cities and towns are expanding park amenities in an attempt to lure a broader cross-section of the populace outdoors.
"The ability of the commission to provide different types of facilities goes hand and hand with population development. It makes Woburn an attractive place to settle down," said Martini. "So we're always working to improve all of our recreational facilities, whether they target children or adults."
In fact, Woburn is just one of a handful of area communities that have pursued new dog parks as a way to attract more people to public parks.
In 2016, neighboring Wilmington opened its own dog park less than two miles away from Woburn's Ferullo Field. According to Lindstrom, Wilmington's dog park proved so popular — it's reportedly the most utilized green space in the entire community — she became sold on the concept when first applying for grant funding from the Stanton Foundation.
Burlington, like Woburn the recipient of Stanton Foundation funding, broke ground on its own 17,800 square foot outdoor dog facility in 2017. Situated at Rahanis Park, the 17,800 pet-friendly space opened in 2018 and has like Wilmington enjoyed enormous popularity.
Nearby Stoneham, where citizens have long enjoyed the dog-friendly environs of the state-managed Sheepfold Reservation by the Medford line, also last year flirted with the possibility of opening up a town-owned dog park by the municipality's Central Middle School.
According to Stoneham Town Planner Erin Wortman and Recreation Director Steve Angelo, town officials, running into some unexpected opposition to the dog park concept, have since decided to concentrate on upgrades to other playgrounds and fields.
"What we're hearing from our residents is that they want to look at existing amenities rather than add new ones. And we do already have the Sheepfold, which is an off-leash place where dogs can go," said Wortman.
"I know the Open Space and Recreation Committee is still looking at potential locations. Hopefully, once we [start to address our existing parks], we can open up the door again for a dog park, because I think it would be great for the community," Angelo later remarked in a separate interview.
Though Stoneham's plans have been shelved for the time being, Wortman and Angelo still see tremendous upside to the eventual creation of a dog park. Ironically, one of those benefits appears to be the reduction of pet waste being left behind at other fields and green spaces.
Though some citizens lodged complaints about dog waste being left behind at Wilmington's pet-friendly grounds, the community has since relied upon a non-profit "friends" group to address those initial issues.
"I think it has a lot to do with talking about responsible pet ownership," suggested Wortman, who believes that dog owners, grateful to finally have a place to bring their pets, eventually tend to police each other regarding waste cleanup. "It seems that dog owners are typically being responsible and policing themselves."
According to Lindstrom, she too is hoping that Woburn's new dog park results in fewer violations of the city's existing ban on pets at other parks and fields.
Ultimately, she believes the Ferullo Field dog sanctuary will prove so popular it will, like Wilmington's dog park, become one of the city's most utilized recreational assets. In order to ensure that the public space is used responsibly, Woburn officials plan to confer with other area communities to see what types of rules and restrictions work best.
"[When you look at other communities dog parks], you see a lot of people congregating with each other and meeting new friends. So they're interacting with a lot of new people," said Lindstrom. "In Wilmington, they said their park is used 365 days a year. So our park is probably not something that will ever shut