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Springs Dog Park Rumors Unfounded

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 12:53
Sophiko Kholegashvili brought Janet Grossman to the East Hampton Town Board work session on Tuesday so she could let the board know her stance on changing Springs Park.
Christopher Gangemi

A flier placed on cars in the lot at the Springs Park this week raised alarm bells for users of the preserve, commonly called the Springs Dog Park. 

The flier claimed that the Springs Park Committee, an appointed group that makes recommendations about its use and management to the East Hampton Town Board, “is recommending that the entire Springs Park be mowed down and turned into one big field. Almost all the beautiful trees and flowering plants will be removed. There will be almost no shaded areas for the dogs and no trails. Birds will be displaced.” It alleged that the park would only be accessible to permit holders and encouraged residents to attend the town board meeting to “keep this from happening.” 

Despite those claims, the Springs Park Committee presented a plan to the East Hampton Town Board Tuesday that largely aligned with the current management plan for the park, created in 2009. 

Neil Kraft, the chairman of the Springs Park Committee, made four recommendations: that a small dog area be included in the park, that invasive species be removed, that parking be limited to East Hampton Town residents, and that Animal Control monitor the park occasionally. 

Councilman Ian Calder-Piedmonte, the liaison to the committee, said he had received 20 calls in just the last couple of days from people upset about the flier. 

Turns out there wasn’t a shred of truth to the unsigned fliers. 

The entire park will not be mowed down and the only plants that will be removed are invasives like autumn olive, multiflora rose, mugwort, and black locust. “We’re not in the shade removal business, we’re in the invasive species removal business,” said Mr. Kraft. “By getting rid of invasive species you encourage habitat diversity. We want to get rid of the plants that are choking off the native plants.” 

Mr. Calder-Piedmonte said the town board had to look toward the future, and that “Not doing anything is not sustainable.” Planting natives to replace removed invasives should be part of the conversation, he said. 

Springs Park was acquired in 2002 with money from the East Hampton Town Community Preservation Fund. The tract is 42 acres, but more than half of it, 23 acres, has become a dog park. Originally it was intended as a place for sports and active recreation. “Members of the community were not 

enamored with the idea of ball fields and lights so the town board heeded the people’s wishes and allowed the space to evolve naturally. As the ‘park’ evolved, we have discovered that the primary use has become an area for dogs and their owners to roam in a protected and fenced environment,” reads the town’s management plan. 

“It’s not a dog park officially, by the way. It’s a park for all people,” said Councilman Calder-Piedmonte, who added, “Frankly, I was threatened not to have this conversation.” He pointed out that Springs Park is one of the largest parks used for dogs in the entire country. Councilman David Lys backed him up. “It’s the most used passive-use park,” in the town, he said, but had morphed into a park that was “geared towards one recreational user group,” dog owners, when in fact, “it was for all township residents.” 

However, despite the misinformation campaign, no one was talking about taking the park away from the dog people or displacing the wildlife within it. 

Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, showed a slide with what the 23 acres, now being used as a dog park, looked like when it was purchased. It was cleared except for some larger specimen trees. Since then, whole swaths, perhaps 60 percent of the land, have filled up with invasives. The removal of autumn olive was in the original management plan, but they had gotten out of hand and become “a major problem for the park.” He said without management, in time, the autumn olives would make the trails impassable. 

“Biologists consider invasive species such as these to be one of the greatest threats to native plants and animals, second only to the outright loss of habitat to urban sprawl, agriculture, and industrial development.” He said the loss of bluebird habitat, for example, was imminent. Habitat changes had already pushed another bird out. The field sparrow, which was nesting in the park when it was acquired by the town, is no longer present. Its populations nationwide are in steep decline, dropping 70 percent in the last 50 years. 

“They’re certainly not breeding there now. Maybe they were when there were more meadows,” said Evan Schumann, who grew up in Springs, walks the park with his dog, and is an avid birder. He has submitted 33 bird checklists to eBird from Springs Park in the last two years and has seen only one field sparrow. Andrew Whitacre, a dog owner and summertime birder in the park, has submitted 30 checklists in the same time period, and says he has never seen one there. 

Most of the opponents of the proposals spoke before the presentation by Mr. Kraft, and so might have been led astray by the flier. 

“Current users want the park left as it is,” said Carol Buda. She also said the park for smaller dogs should be placed on the other side of the fenced area, which would require the removal of a swath of native trees. “The park got a lot of people with dogs out of Maidstone and off the beaches and gave them a safe place to exercise their dogs.” 

Barbara Feldman said if the town removed the autumn olives more space would be opened up, and it would add visibility, “but you’re going to be watching your dog running across the park.” She worried about shade, even though autumn olives don’t provide much. “Sunscreen doesn’t help a dog. Dogs in the middle of the park are going to fry in the summer.” 

“It’s honestly like Disneyland for the dogs there,” said Maya Lin, extolling the community of park users, “which spreads across many socioeconomic classes.” But like others, she mentioned that she had heard about the meeting only after receiving the flier. 

“People came here with pre-existing ideas of what the presentation would be,” said Loring Bolger, who is the chairwoman of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee. “If they take the time to look at it again, they will find a lot of their concerns have been addressed here.” She noted that her committee had tried to discuss the park, but “that it was nothing short of a nightmare.” 

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