COMMUNITY MEMBERS examine and discuss the improvement maps for South End Park at Thursday’s open house in Bath.

COMMUNITY MEMBERS examine and discuss the improvement maps for South End Park at Thursday’s open house in Bath.

BATH

Dog owners and residents alike were divided over the improved designs of South End Park, which were displayed at an open house last Thursday.

Located on Washington Street in Bath, the park is better known as an off-leash dog park, though with its grassy lands, waterfront views, bocce courts and walking paths, the park welcomes all community members.

The Parks and Recreation Department and the Planning Board hosted the open house to allow the public to review conceptual designs that would improve the park, based on ideas that were discussed at a public meeting that took place last fall.

A total of $100,000 is available for park development.

Maps distinguished as A, B and C were displayed for public view on Thursday, offering three different visual concepts of the park.

All maps proposed a new park sign, more parking spaces and a watering station, a suggestion that was originally turned down at the October meeting due to the land’s 18-inch clay cap.

A key difference between the maps is the presence or absence of a chain-link fence on the property.

Map A displays a fence that surrounds almost all of the park area, but still allows access to the waters. Map B features a smaller fence that encloses a portion of grassy land near the center of the park, allowing an area for off-leash dogs to roam freely. A fence is excluded from Map C, which proposes the least amount of changes to the park.

Residents were encouraged to place a yellow sticker on the map they felt reflected the best changes, and an orange sticker on the plan they disliked the most. Sticky notes were also available for community members who wanted to write down further suggestions to improve the maps.

Bruce Kaake, a Bath resident and dog owner, said he would most likely agree with Map C, as long as there was a fence along Washington Street that would prevent dogs from running out into the road.

According to Kaake, he and several residents at the October meeting were in favor of keeping the park the way it was.

“Most people say leave it alone, so option C is the one that has the least amount of impact, which is what people wanted. And second, it doesn’t use all the money up, so it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Dog owner Jeff Clark preferred Map C as well, praising the open space of the park; he also agreed with Kaake’s desire for a fence on Washington Street.

“For one thing, it leaves the whole area open. The reason the park works is because there’s so much open space,” he said. “And it meets everybody’s needs — all it needs is a fence to keep dogs off the street.”

Others residents agreed, saying their dogs are tempted to run out into the street, or have done so in the past.

Although most participants on Thursday were dog owners, other park users were present, concerned that the plans would predominantly support a dog park.

Jessica Irish, who lives across the street from the park, was attracted to the site because of the view of the water and the 10-acre play area the park provided for her children.

Though she had no qualms about the off-leash law, she hoped the park plans would not just accommodate dogs, but become more family friendly.

“If we put in a fence, we feel a little bit concerned that it’s going to primarily be a dog park. It’s the only park on the south end, so people are a little concerned that it will restrict family use and will send the message that it’s for dogs,” Irish said.

She felt families were already unable to venture past the bocce courts because of the dogs.

When asked about the possibility of playground equipment for the park, Steve Balboni, the director of the Bath Parks and Recreation Department, said there would not be enough funding to provide a playground, especially because the improvements in Map A and B would use up the entire $100,000.

“That doesn’t mean that can’t happen in the future. The reason the playground is not in any of these pictures is because it wasn’t a very high priority at the meeting,” he said.

Emi White, who visits the park four to five times a week with her dog, agreed with option B, hoping that the plan would cater to both dog owners and community members.

“It is a dog park, but other people go there and by having the fenced in area on the side of the walkway, people can be on the outside and not have to in the midst of the ruckus of dogs off-leash,” White said.

Balboni said that two of the most well received maps will be presented before the city council.

“The ultimate decision will be made by city council,” he said. “We’ll extend what we’ve learned tonight, and I think what will happen is that two will rise above the third one. And we’ll say these are the two concepts, here are some alternatives about what way would the city like to move.”

The city council will consider the proposed maps and public opinion to determine how the funds will be spent to improve the park at a city council meeting on May 6. The public is encouraged to attend and provide their thoughts on the park improvements at the meeting.

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THE BATH CITY COUNCIL will consider the proposed maps and public opinion to determine how the funds will be spent to improve the park at a meeting on May 6. A total of $100,000 is available for park development.


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