CAPE ELIZABETH — Hands in pockets, Dan Chase mingled with friends and fellow dog walkers while keeping an eye on his energetic 15-month old Labradoodle, Cammie.
Mira, his other dog, sat loyally by his side, untethered.
Chase brings Cammie and Mira to Fort Williams Park every afternoon around 4 p.m., unleashes them, and lets them roam with other dogs in the park’s “off-leash” area. He said he’s found a sense of community among dog-walkers at the park.
A roughly 170-member Facebook group, Dogs of the Light, has even been created for Fort Williams Park dog walkers to connect and share photos and videos.
“You get to know the dogs and their owners,” Chase said, reaching down to pet Pippin, a friend of Mira’s.
The town is considering a proposal from the Fort Williams Park Committee that would extend the park’s off-leash dog area, but prohibit dogs – on- and off-leash – from the park’s multi-purpose fields for the seven months of the year the fields are most used for athletics.
The multi-purpose fields are behind the park’s maintenance garage, near the children’s playground and are surrounded by the off-leash dog area.
The extension of the off-leash area would include a portion of “The Green” to a line from the southerly end of Battery Blair extending easterly to the Cliff Walk. Public Works Director Bob Malley said the re-configured space would be about 20 acres.
Fort Williams Park Committee Chairman Mark Russell presented the ordinance amendment at an Oct. 11 Town Council meeting.
He said the committee has been discussing the off-leash area for a year and, while members are aware of how much dog owners value the space to let their dogs roam, they believe allowing them on the multi-purpose fields creates safety and sanitary problems.
“I look at the athletic field as a (town) asset that we should try to protect as much as possible for the purposes it was built,” Malley added. “It’s an athletic field.”
The proposed amendment originally prohibited dogs on the multi-purpose fields from April 15-June 15 and again from Aug. 15-Oct. 15. But the Ordinance Committee decided at its Oct. 19 meeting to make the restrictions more concise and easy to enforce by restricting dogs from the fields between April 1 and Nov. 1.
Councilor and committee member Kathy Ray said she’s concerned about who will enforce the restrictions and thinks a park manager should be hired first.
Furthermore, she and Councilor Jessica Sullivan agreed they’d rather see no dogs be allowed off-leash at any time or in any area of the park.
“I think it’s a safety issue, and if we keep it simple … it’s a lot easier for park rangers to deal with it,” Sullivan said. “Just on-leash at all times, pure and simple.”
While other parks and trails in town allow dogs off-leash during certain hours of the day, Chase said he prefers bringing his dogs to Fort Williams Park because the land is so open – allowing him to keep an eye on Cammie as she roams.
Dogs of the Light administrator Heidi Hansen attended the ordinance committee’s meeting to show support for the committee drafting the proposal. She said she and other members of the Facebook group feel lucky to have a spot like Fort Williams Park to bring their dogs.
The redrafted proposal will be considered at another ordinance committee meeting on Friday, Oct. 27, when members will decide whether to send the ordinance to the full council.
Megan Hellstedt and her daughter Annika, 6, of Portland, walk Madeleine, a 15-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, past the no-dogs area at Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park last weekend.
Under a proposal being considered for Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, the shaded space at right would be added to the area where off-leash dogs are allowed, while the athletic fields at the center would be off limits to all dogs for most of the year.
A sign near the ocean indicates an off-leash dog area at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.