Bethel committee to think bigger than dog park/basketball court debate
Bethel’s dog park/basketball court debate morphed into a new town committee Monday, as selectmen agreed with citizen suggestions that a larger plan for Bethel recreation is needed.
The board voted to table plans to put the park and court before voters in June.
Several Bethel officials and citizens said at the selectmen’s meeting they were concerned the two proposed facilities – both potentially competing for the same spot on the Pathway/Davis Park property – had turned into an either/or choice.
And that was how some of the discussion went for a time.
Todd Wheeler, who submitted a petition and brought a request to selectmen for a town meeting article to put a court on the proposed dog park site should voters turn down the park, said he was not against a dog park per se.
“I have three dogs, I’m not against dogs,” he told selectmen and about two dozen people who attended the meeting.
But, said Wheeler, “Other towns that have dog parks probably already have baseball fields and basketball courts. I just think our kids should come first.”
He also said the question of a basketball court had not come up suddenly. “This wasn’t an instant thing. I’ve been looking at this for two years,” he said.
Wheeler said it’s difficult to find recreational space for kids in the area. “We live in the western mountains of Maine. That would not be my first choice for town property, is to put up a dog park.”
He said the park would cater to tourists visiting the area who are looking for a place to walk their dogs. “This town gets a lot from out of state money, don’t get me wrong. But our kids still need something to do,” he said.
The Pathway area is readily accessible for kids on foot or bike, he said. “If you’re going to walk your dog in the dog park, why not walk your dog someplace else?” he asked.
Jane Ryerson, who also said she loves dogs, agreed. ”I think a basketball court would be a better investment for our kids than a dog park,” she said.
Nancy Brown, a supporter of the park, said it’s a misconception that a park would just be another place for dogs to be off-leash and socialize.
“It’s becoming more and more of a problem in this area to just take your dog somewhere and let it run,” she said. “I live next door to Telstar, and people let their dogs run loose on the fields there, which is a problem in my mind. And dogs were let to run loose at Riverside Cemetery, and they had to put signs up saying ‘no dogs allowed.’”
She said she believed there’s land available for both a park and court.
Town Manager Jim Doar said he had received e-mails from two people suggesting a committee that could first come up with an overall recreational plan for the Davis Park/Pathway area.
One, Dennis Doyon, attended the meeting. “I think there’s probably some fairly limited land along that Pathway for recreational opportunities, and that’s why I suggested to Jim a committee be formed to look at what the whole area may look like, what we may need for support services, and what those costs may be,” he said.
The Pathway area totals 16.5 acres.
Ron Savage agreed with Doyon. He also suggested looking beyond the Pathway for other recreational space, possibly on nearby private property with more parking.
“I would slow down a little and look at the available space, and then make a decision based on that,” he said.
Savage said it would be important to have a design such that facilities are not too spread out for the sake of parents with kids of different ages and interests.
With that in mind, he said, “It might be easier to move the dog park to a more remote location than it is necessarily the kids.”
Other suggestions for alternate locations for recreational facilities included town lots at the airport and SAD 44’s Ethel Bisbee property in Bethel Village.
Wight said it would be helpful for the Dog Park Committee to know soon if townspeople want a park at all in any location, so the members could plan whether or not to continue fundraising.
The board eventually voted to set up a committee to come up with a larger recreation plan for the Pathway/Davis Park area and perhaps beyond.
Selectmen meet next on May 6, when the committee is expected to be appointed.