Heckscher Park Vote Nov. 19th

Vote to Allow Leashed Dogs in Heckscher Park For Good Set for Thurs., Nov. 19th!

Vote Comes On the Heels of an Almost Year-long Successful Pilot Program

Moose by the Pond in Heckscher Park Photo Credit: Johanna King

A resolution to finally add Heckscher Park to Huntington’s townwide dog-friendly parks policy is up for a vote by the Huntington Town Board on Thurs., Nov. 19th! The vote, which will take place at a virtual meeting starting at 2 p.m., comes almost a year after the successful launch and operation of a pilot program in Huntington’s premiere community park.

The resolution to add Heckscher Park to the town’s dog-friendly parks policy is sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Cergol. Councilwoman Cergol has championed allowing leashed dogs in Heckscher Park ever since an online petition asking for on-leash access to the park quickly gathered more than 2,500 signatures last fall.  In October 2019, Councilwoman Cergol introduced and the Town Board approved a resolution to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park on a pilot program basis.

At the Nov. 4th Public Hearing on this latest resolution–which went smoothly with no one speaking in opposition–LI-DOG President Ginny Munger Kahn noted that not only has the pilot program operated successfully through all four seasons of the year now, “but the policy of allowing leashed dogs in Heckscher Park has gained broad support among dog owners and the community. Even people who were initially uncomfortable about allowing on-leash dogs in Heckscher Park, “ she said, “now support making the policy permanent as dog owners are following the rules and the pilot program has been responsive to any issues raised by local residents.”

In a key development, the proposal to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park for good has gained the unanimous support of the Huntington Greenway Trails Committee on which LI-DOG serves and which in 2017 recommended that the Town open virtually all its parks to on-leash dog walking.  At the time, the Trails Committee recommended exempting Heckscher Park from the broad policy because of concerns about overcrowding in the park. Now, however, as the Chair of the Committee noted in an email to the Town Board, “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.”

In its email to the Town Board Urging Support for Adding Heckscher to its Dog Friendly Parks Policy, LI-DOG noted that much of the credit for the success of the pilot program should go to the Oversight Committee formed by Councilwoman Cergol late last year, which includes volunteer Park Ambassadors (dog owners who volunteered to help public education efforts in the park), representatives from organizations like the Citizens Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities and representatives from Huntington’s Dept. of  Public Safety and the Division of Animal Control. The Committee was responsible for monitoring the pilot program and making adjustments based on input from the community.

Whenever issues were brought to the attention of Councilwoman Cergol and the committee, Park Ambassadors would step up public education efforts in the park to make sure everyone knew what the new rules were. Thank you so much to all the Park Ambassadors who committed their time to making sure the pilot program was successful!

The results of these efforts and the effects of the pilot program on Heckscher Park are summarized in the final Park Ambassadors Report submitted by Karen Thomas, creator of the petition that made the pilot program possible, 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 Park Ambassador Johanna King put it, “In addition to meeting neighbors and making new friends, I’ve become healthier and created an amazing routine with my dog (that’s Moose in the photo above). For the first time since moving to Huntington, I feel a sense of belonging here.”

The bottom line is that the on-leash dog walking program in Heckscher Park has been a success and Heckscher Park should be added to the town’s broad dog-friendly parks policy, the report’s authors conclude.

Dog owners need to be aware that restrictions on dogs, both leashed and unleashed, remain in place for specific areas of 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 has been added to the proposed change in 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.

How You Can Help:  If you have not already done so, please email the Town Board and urge the Board to add Heckscher Park to Huntington’s townwide dog-friendly parks policy! Even if you don’t own dog, let them know how great it is to see people walking their leashed dogs in the park! At this point, simply send your email to Town Clerk Andrew Raia at araia@huntingtonny.gov. His office will distribute all communication they receive to the Town Board members.

Thank you for your support!

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