On Jan. 1, the Town of Huntington will begin a three-month pilot program to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park, subject to certain limitations. If the trial period is successful, the pilot will extend in three-month increments to gather data from use of the park in different seasons.
The program is the result of a town board resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), developed in response to a petition that circulated this past summer calling for better access to the park for dogs and their owners.
Greenlawn resident Karen Thomas helped draft and circulate the successful petition campaign this past summer.
“Over 2,500 dog owners have spoken and the Huntington board listened,” said Thomas.
Cergol announced her position on opening up the park to dogs on a trial basis in a Sept. 5 Times of Huntington news article. The resolution she drafted was unanimously approved at the town’s Oct. 16 board meeting.
“The relationship between dogs and humans continues to evolve, and it is becoming increasingly common to see dog owners and their canine family members together in public places,” Cergol said. “I am excited that we are about to extend this option at Huntington’s downtown signature park and look forward to our partnership with [the nonprofit Long Island Dog Owners Group] in ensuring the pilot program’s success.”
LI-DOG is a nonprofit advocacy group looking to increase access for dog owners to public spaces. It’s president, Ginny Munger Kahn, was designated as the lead public education campaign coordinator.
“Our job is to make sure all the dog owners know that it’s in their best interest to follow the basic guidelines,” she said. “Overall, respect other park users. That’s the key.”
Specifically, this means keeping dogs on a leash less than 6-feet long and under control. No retractable leashes are allowed, and people are limited to no more than two dogs per individual. People are also expected to clean up after their dogs once they do their business. People, Kahn said, are good with this part.
“People have precedence over dogs on the path,” Kahn said. “Step off the path onto the grass as people pass by unimpeded.”
Heckscher Park’s trails, which are more narrow than other town pathways, suggest that this is an important part of the guidelines to remember.
Cergol formed an advisory committee that includes representatives of her staff, various town departments, LI-DOG and the town’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities to create the educational program. The group has met twice and has developed program guidelines from those gatherings and individual conversations.
The committee has so far planned to post signage at various spots in the park, including all the major entrances. A video to be aired on the town’s government access television channel and on its social media pages and LI-DOG’s pages will demonstrate what is allowed and what is not. They’ve also developed informational cards to hand out to dog owners in the park.
“We believe ultimately having leashed dogs in the park is a really good thing,” Kahn said. “For one thing, dogs influence socializing among people who don’t know each other.”
They also deter geese, which are fouling the parks pathways.