Dam, Dog Owners at Odds Over Park

  • Peggy Allen, of Wilder, and her dog Jack, left, and Jennifer Graham, of Lebanon, and her dog Otis, right, return to their cars after a walk at Kilowatt Park in Wilder, Vt., Wednesday, October 11, 2017. Great River Hydro is asking the Town of Hartford to help prevent dog owners from violating a 250-foot setback from structures it maintains at the southern edge of Kilowatt Park South. The company plans to restrict public access to a parking lot that has been used by dog walkers for years. Because the lot at the north end of the park is gated in the winter, the move could prevent the dog walkers from using the park during the wintertime. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jennifer Graham, of Lebanon, plays fetch with her dog Otis, left, as Paula Stevens, of Wilder, and her dog Reagan walk along the edge of Kilowatt Park in Wilder, Vt., Wednesday, October 11, 2017. “I don’t live here anymore,” said Graham, who used to live in Wilder. “But it’s still my favorite place to come with a dog.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wilder — A group of more than a dozen dog walkers expressed concern about plans by the new owner of the Wilder Dam that could prevent them from accessing a riverside dog park during the winter months.

“We’ve been coming here for 10 or 15 years. Maybe 20,” said Mary Wieland, a retired King Arthur Flour worker from Norwich who was meeting a group of dog owners for a daily romp around Kilowatt South, a town-operated park on land owned by Great River Hydro between Passumpsic Avenue and the Connecticut River.

The park has a single parking lot with a boat launch; to the south of the parking lot is a soccer field, and beyond that is the off-leash dog area.

During the winter months, when snow makes walking past the unplowed soccer field difficult, dog owners traditionally have parked in a lot that is designated for Great River Hydro employees as they access the Wilder Dam, which is situated beyond the southern boundary of the off-leash dog area.

From that lot, dog owners can cross Wilder Dam Road and walk past a large outbuilding to get to the off-leash area.

But that tradition has some problems with it, said Matthew Cole, a spokesman for Great River Hydro. When the firm purchased the dam earlier this year from TransCanada, it also inherited the land that the park occupies, and a long-standing lease agreement with the town.

“It’s a safety thing,” Cole said on Tuesday. “They’re parking in a lot and crossing a sometimes busy road there. Employees have had some close calls with some unleashed dogs in the road.”

Wieland and other dog walkers mentioned the same issue, but said the problem was that the dam workers drive along the road at high rates of speed.

“We just kind of do our thing,” said Hermine Wallach, a retired Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center worker from Wilder, who said she visits the park with her dog twice a day.

In addition to closing public access to the lot, Cole said, he is asking the town to encourage the public to observe a boundary in the lease that is meant to keep park users from straying within 250 feet of the outbuilding.

A town-maintained receptacle where dog owners can drop bags of dog waste currently is only about 125 feet from the outbuilding, said Cole, who suggested that a split rail fence could help park users to understand the limits of their access.

“It’s kind of encroaching on us and there are more and more folks using it,” Cole said. “If we could get everybody to park in that parking lot (on the north side of the park), the safety concerns would be over. I’d like to get folks educated before it gets to the winter.”

Scott Hausler, director of the Hartford Department of Parks and Recreation, said Great River Hydro has been a good partner on the property, and he plans to address the company’s concerns.

“It’s an awesome asset to have,” he said. “You can’t buy property like this if you want to develop a park.”

Hausler said the town has plans to move the dog waste receptacle and to erect signage to encourage park users to give the outbuilding its proper berth.

There is still a question as to how the town might facilitate continued access to the park during the winter months, which the dog owners said was important to them.

“Some park locations have plowed parking spaces for winter usage and the parks are always available for patrons that snowshoe, walk their dogs or simply enjoy nature,” Hausler said.

But Hausler said the Kilowatt South parking lot isn’t open during the winter since the access road is not ideal for plowing; it is steep, narrow, covered in gravel and lacks guardrails.

Cole said his understanding is that winter access is not allowed on the site.

“In the wintertime when that area is closed, this area is closed,” he said.

But Hausler said the town is still seeking to find a solution with Great River Hydro that would allow dog walkers year-round access to the off-leash area.

“One potential solution to parking would be Great River Hydro’s ability to provide an access between the guardrails at the 250-foot barrier, which is something they are looking into,” Hausler said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.