2018-07-26 / Around Town

New Pell Ramp Proposal Threatens Dog Park

By James Merolla

It doesn’t look like much. Sunburned grass and mulch, divots, no water source, uneven ground, a dozen assorted lawn chairs of various sizes, colors and quality in a circle. Not far off, traffic whizzes by with thousands of cars heading to Jamestown and beyond.

But to the dozens of citizens who have used the Newport Dog Park for 19 years, it isn’t about the beauty of the space, but the depth and quality of the friendships made, simply by bringing their canines together.

Those liaisons may be in jeopardy, however, as RIDOT’s plans for new bridge ramps could mean the relocation or closing of the park.

Optimists, including City Council vice chair and daily dog park visitor Lynn Ceglie, are being persistent to make sure that the ramps improve the park, rather than lead to its demise. “I am very invested in this effort,” she said in an email to NTW.

“For the past couple of years, since I adopted two larger dogs that need the room to run, I have been going to the Newport Dog Park,” she said. “I have found it to be a great place, not only for dogs to play and socialize, but also for dog owners to come together over a shared affection for their animals. It is a great resource for dog owners with no yards.

Ceglie admits it is not the most scenic of lots, agreeing that it could use an ongoing water source and more shade. “It was always meant to be temporary because of the talk about the bridge ramps, even 20 years ago,” she said. “I had some extra trees planted for shade and to make it more appealing. If the ramp impacts the park negatively, we need to find a new location. I hope not.”

Though dog parks have popped up all over Rhode Island in recent years, Newport’s was the first ever allowed in the state in 2000, and it initially was met with controversy. The Aquidneck Dog Owners Group petitioned the city for two years before the empty lot across from the Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant at 102 JT Connell Highway was fenced in just for them.

Before that, every time a potential dog park site was identified, various neighborhood associations and abutters would object. They expressed fears of noise, abandoned waste and even envisioned packs of unruly dogs left unsupervised in what they called, “an urban corral,” according to one newspaper report.

Carl Lokey has been coming to the dog park twice a day, virtually every day, since 2009, when his bulldog mix, Dozer, was a puppy. Dozer has established some local press himself. According to his master, he has been credited with finding 29 stray dogs, or “saves.”

“He found a beagle that was lost by the river for three months,” said Lokey. “They wrote a story about him.

“Bonds are formed. Good people come here,” he said. “It’s good for some of the old people to get out and converse.”

Lokey talks as he sits in a circle of 12 chairs with the names of the dog owners etched upon their cloth with a dark marker.

From the chair marked “Linda,” Linda Carlisle said the dog park is good for people, but much more important for the dogs, including her Chessey, a silvery shepherd mix who wags when strangers approach.

“There are some people we don’t see anywhere but here,” she said. “With today’s leash laws, you can’t really let dogs run loose anymore.”

Another circle of dog owners, who call themselves, “The Dog Park Six,” go out regularly to dinner and movies. Like many of them, Carlisle comes to the park around 11 a.m., and again near 5 p.m., the peak hours. That’s when you might see the daily average of 12 to 15 canines, and as many as 20, according to Lokey.

Carlisle has seen RIDOT’s preliminary plans for the bridge ramps, which were aired publicly for the first time in July at the Chamber of Commerce’s board meeting and are soon to be unveiled to residents of the Point neighborhood. “On the plans I saw, the park is gone. I didn’t see on any of those plans a place where you could have a dog park, unless they change the plans significantly.”

City Manager Joe Nicholson gave assurances that there will be a dog park in Newport, though did not offer a location. “We all need a place to hang out,” he said in an email to NTW, and “it’s a great amenity for the city” he said.

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