Huntington Town Board Votes to Make Heckscher Park Permanently Dog-Friendly!

Unanimous Decision Comes After Successful Year-Long Pilot Program

Credit: Johanna King

The Huntington Town Board voted 5-0 on Nov. 19th to permanently allow on-leash dog walking in Huntington’s Heckscher Park! The vote at a virtual Town Board meeting came on a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Cergol and seconded by both Supervisor Chad Lupinacci and Councilman Eugene Cook.  Councilwoman Cergol has led the year-long effort to add Heckscher Park to Huntington’s townwide dog-friendly parks policy. Council members Mark Cuthbertson and Ed Smyth also voted in favor.

In seconding Councilwoman Cergol’s resolution, Supervisor Lupinacci noted that the Town Board had gotten “a lot of emails and support” for the resolution and that “it was nice to see [such support].”  Thanks to everyone who responded to LI-DOG’s emails and contacted the Town Board urging them to make Heckscher Park dog-friendly for good!

Thank you also to fellow Huntington dog owner Karen Thomas who created the online petition in Aug. 2019 that got this all started. Also, a big thank you to our volunteer Park Ambassadors—dog owners who helped spread the word about the pilot program and the rules in the park–including Michelle Troiano, Wendy Tullo, Johanna King, Sharyn Julino, Laurence Foray, Elizabeth Madden, Erich Preis, Loary Milanese and Michelle Factor Noonan.

“Walking our dogs on-leash in Heckscher Park is something Huntington dog owners have wanted for years. We are thrilled this has finally happened thanks largely to the efforts of Councilwoman Cergol and our fellow Park Ambassadors,” said LI-DOG President Ginny Munger Kahn.

The vote to permanently allow on-leash dog walking in Heckscher Park came after a successful, almost year-long pilot program in Huntington’s signature community park.  The pilot program was launched by a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Cergol in Oct. 2019 and renewed three times by the Town Board. It  created a public education effort to bring dog owners in the park up to speed on the new rules for on-leash dog walking, while allowing for an Oversight Committee chaired by Councilwoman Cergol to make adjustments to the program in response to input from the community.

The Oversight Committee included representatives from LI-DOG and the Citizens Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, volunteer Park Ambassadors, and staff from Huntington’s Dept. of Public Safety and the Division of Animal Control, among others.

LI-DOG noted that Councilwoman Cergol’s responsiveness to concerns raised by the community by adjusting the rules, working with the Dept. of Public Safety, Animal Control and General Services to get the resources needed to respond to these issues, and then Park Ambassadors stepping up their public education efforts were key to the success of the pilot program.

As a result, not only did the pilot program operate successfully through all four seasons of the year, but the policy of allowing leashed dogs in Heckscher Park gained broad support in the community. “Even people who were initially uncomfortable about allowing on-leash dogs in Heckscher Park ended up supporting making the policy permanent,”  noted LI-DOG in a Nov. 2nd Email to the Town Board: Please Support Adding Heckscher to Dog Friendly Parks Policy.

In a significant development on Nov. 5th, the chair of the Huntington Greenway Trails Committee on which LI-DOG serves and which in 2017, recommended opening virtually all Town parks to on-leash dogs, endorsed adding Heckscher Park to the town’s broad dog-friendly parks policy.  In 2017, the committee had exempted Heckscher Park from its recommendation because of concerns about overcrowding. Now, “The Huntington Greenway Trails Committee…unanimously agree[s] that the on-leash dog walking program at Heckscher Park has been extremely successful [and] supports…a change in the town code to allow on-leash dog walking in Heckscher Park.”

The effects of the pilot program on Heckscher Park were summarized in the final Park Ambassadors Report submitted by lead Park Ambassador Karen Thomas and LI-DOG. Among the key findings:

  • Dog owners have been responsible about picking up after their dogs and dog waste is not a problem.
  • Off-leash dogs are a rare occurrence.
  • The dog population is consistently low—usually under 6 dogs throughout the park at any one time.
  • There have been no complaints in recent months about dog owners failing to yield to others on the paths.
  • Complaints about dogs on benches were addressed by updating the rules prohibiting dogs on benches.
  • Goose droppings on the paths have been reduced because of the presence of leashed dogs.
  • Park ambassadors continue to receive very positive feedback from dog owners about how happy and grateful they are to enjoy Heckscher Park with their canine companions.
    • As one Park Ambassador put it, “In addition to meeting neighbors and making new friends, I’ve become healthier and created an amazing routine with my dog. For the first time since moving to Huntington, I feel a sense of belonging here.”

Councilwoman Cergol summarized her take on the success of the pilot program in a Nov. 21st Facebook post. Since creating the pilot program a year ago, she wrote, “we taught both the public and our pooches new tricks about safety and co-existing in harmony during a tumultuous year when peace and harmony were often hard to find. We did that by abiding by the mindset that if we respected everyone’s right to enjoyment of this downtown signature park…we would create a walking path for all to come together. For me, this may be one of the most important lessons of this humble pilot program and of this very challenging year,” she wrote.  “For that, I could not be prouder.”

Even though the pilot program has ended, LI-DOG’s President assured the Town Board before the vote that Park Ambassadors would continue to keep an eye on dog owner activities in the park. Once the threat of the coronovirus is contained, public education days will be scheduled when Park Ambassadors once again hand out flyers and talk to dog owners about the rules in the park. If any issues arise, dog owners will reach out to Councilwoman Cergol for her help in resolving them, she said.

Dog owners need to be aware that restrictions on dogs, both leashed and unleashed, remain in place for specific areas of Heckscher Park and other town parks. Among these are:

  • All playgrounds
  • Picnic areas
  • Park benches
  • Active recreation areas such as tennis courts and sports fields
  • All town camp or licensed education areas
  • Beaches, except for paved areas and boardwalks, and
  • The temporarily fenced area around Heckscher Park’s Harry Chapin Rainbow Stage during performances. This last restriction was added to the Town Code as a result of the licensing agreement the Town has with the Huntington Arts Council. Dog owners are still allowed to bring leashed dogs outside the temporary fencing.

What You Can DoIf you have not already done so, let the members of the Huntington Town Board know how great it is to finally be allowed to walk your dog(s) on-leash in Heckscher Park. Don’t forget to thank them for unanimously approving making Heckscher Park dog-friendly for good!

Members of the Huntington Town Board:

Hon. Chad A. Lupinacci, Supervisor, Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743 Phone: (631) 351-3030

Hon. Joan Cergol, Councilwoman, Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743 Phone: (631) 351-3173  (Remember to thank Councilwoman Cergol for all her work on behalf of dog owners!)

Hon. Mark Cuthbertson, Councilman, Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743 Phone: (631) 351-3172

Hon. Edmund J.M. Smyth, Councilman, Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743 Phone: (631) 351-3175

Hon. Eugene Cook, Councilman, Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743 Phone: (631) 351-3174

Thank you for your support!

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