Anne Marie Hunter
Southbury's Amazing Dog Park & It's History
Southbury Dog Park
236 Roxbury Road, Southbury
When house hunters and renters select the community they want to call home, there are many considerations – taxes, schools, walkability, etc. There is also an important question that never seems to make the list in guidebooks or articles, but matters deeply to many families: will my dog like it here?
The Town of Southbury boasts one of the most impressive dog parks in the country, ranking among the Top 16 Ultimate Dog Parks in the U.S. in an article from BarkPost. Humans and pups alike are welcome to enjoy this 14-acre piece of land which features fields, forests, hiking trails, and the beautiful Pomperaug River. It has been a cornerstone of the community for roughly two decades.
The “tail” of the Southbury Dog Park begins over twenty years ago. Ken Kerin, a former selectman of Southbury, loved taking his dog on walks. One of his favorite places to bring his canine friend was a beautiful, forested area around the corner from his house, owned by O&G Industries. As lovely as these walks were, he dreamed of a place where he and his neighbors could bring their dogs and let them off-leash in a safe environment to play together.
Mr. Kerin and his friends decided to approach the Town of Southbury to see if they could create a dog park to serve the residents. Unfortunately, at that time, the Town did not have the resources to fund this idea. Mr. Kerin was undeterred. His next step was to approach O&G Industries, Connecticut’s largest privately-owned construction company, to see if they could work out an arrangement regarding that beautiful piece of land around the corner from his house.
The timing was fortuitous: O&G had been looking for a way to improve their community relations and engage with their neighbors. They had no future plans for the portion of land Mr. Kerin suggested. After some discussion, a few decisions were made:
1. O&G would set aside 14 acres of land to be used as a dog park.
2. A nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Friends of the Southbury Dog Park (FoSDP), would be created to oversee and maintain the area.
3. The nonprofit would be chaired by and composed of community members.
4. O&G would provide services such as plowing the roads in the winter and regrading the parking lot as needed.
Since then, the dog park has grown in participation and popularity. Dozens of people visit each day. FoSDP engages in fundraising to provide doggy waste bags, install benches, plant trees, and mow the field area. The Town of Southbury came back into the picture, engaging municipal staff to gather refuse from the park’s four trash bins each week for disposal.
FoSDP President Ron Hurt speaks lovingly of the community that has blossomed around the Dog Park. “There are so many people who have made very good friends here,” he says, counting himself among them. “It’s astonishing.”
Southbury is so grateful to the participants who got the Dog Park started and ensure it remains a friendly and inclusive space:
· Friends of the Southbury Dog Park: This is the nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that runs and upkeeps the park. The Board of Directors is made of eight individuals representing four different towns. They are responsible for installing tables and benches, planting trees, contracting mowing services, and maintaining an informational website.
· O&G Industries (Southbury Quarry): O&G owns the property on which the park sits. They have put management of this land entirely into the hands of the nonprofit group. O&G provides maintenance services such as snow-plowing and parking lot care.
· Town of Southbury: The Town supports this amazing community feature by allocating staff to pick up and dispose of trash weekly. Not only does this keep the park looking nice, but it ensures that animal waste does not pollute the pristine Pomperaug River.
· Ken Kerin: Mr. Kerin is the former selectman whose quest to find a play area for his neighborhood’s dogs led to the creation of the Southbury Dog Park.
· Community Members: In order to participate in the Dog Park, community members agree to abide by a set of rules – pick up after your pooch, supervise your pet at all times, etc. Each visitor who walks through the gate respects these rules and contributes to a safe, enjoyable environment for everyone. If you ever decide to visit the park, you can experience firsthand how friendly and welcoming the people are.
· The Pups: What would the Dog Park be without the pups? A great, big thank you and lots of slobbery kisses to the canines big and small that make the space as magical as it is.
There are two other parties we would like to mention. Although they are not “participants” in the traditional sense, their interactions with the Dog Park have been both memorable and meaningful.
Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition (PRWC): When PRWC was preparing a watershed-based plan for the Pomperaug River, they got in touch with FoSDP to analyze their operations. PRWC found no evidence of pollution from the dogs playing in the river, though they made a few suggestions on preventing bank erosion. FoSDP was proud to learn that their activities do not negatively impact the water quality of this highly regarded natural feature.
The Delegation from South Korea: In 2018, the large South Korean City of Daegu (about the population of Chicago) was looking to create a dog park for its residents. When Googling “top dog parks in the United States,” they found out about Southbury’s hidden gem. Four representatives from Daegu made the trip to Connecticut and toured the grounds with FoSDP President Ron Hurt. Voices published an article on this event here: Delegation From South Korea Visits Southbury Dog Park | Pets & Horses | primepublishers.com
The sustainability benefits of the Southbury Dog Park are numerous.
· Inclusive, community gathering space: The Dog Park is free and open to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a dog or if they live in Southbury. President Ron Hurt describes it as “an unofficial outdoor community center.”
· Natural land: Preserving undeveloped areas is a core component of sustainability. Other than a few trails and some benches, the lion’s share of this park is left as natural land.
· Public-private-puppy partnership: The relationship between O&G Industries, the Town of Southbury, FoSDP as a nonprofit, and the community members is incredibly unique. The Dog Park would not be the success it is without each of these participants.
· Healthy lifestyles: The wide-open spaces of this dog park encourage exercise and active recreation. Whether visitors are chasing their dogs around the field or going for a jog along the hiking trails, this area promotes healthy lifestyles for all.
The Dog Park has its own website, a webpage on the Town of Southbury’s site, and a Facebook page; links are below. Also below is a collection of quotes from community members (taken from the Facebook page) and photos courtesy of the web pages.